A league of her own: Georgia Simmerling heading to 3rd Olympics in 3rd sport
"I'm not saying I didn't work hard in the gym as a ski racer. But cycling really has taken it to a new level."
When Georgia Simmerling is officially named to the Canadian Olympic cycling team next week, she can officially lay claim to a singular and remarkable achievement.
Rio will count as the Vancouverite's third Olympic Games, and cycling her third Olympic sport.
"I think I'll be the first Canadian to do that," said the 27-year-old who also raced in alpine skiing at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and in ski cross in Sochi four years later.
She's right. Although there are a handful of two-sport Olympians — Clara Hughes and Hayley Wickenheiser are the best known — Simmerling will be in a league of her own when she rides in Rio with the highly touted Canadian pursuit team.
From the outside, the trail blazed to complete the trifecta appears to have been surprisingly easy.
Simmerling first rode a track bike less than two years ago and first rode at the elite level last November when she qualified for the national team.
In her first-ever cycling World Cup she won gold as a rookie on the Canadian team. At her first World Championships, she won silver.
"A lot of people have asked me, 'how have you done this so quickly?' But I think people forget that I've been an elite athlete since I was 12. I've been on the alpine national team and ski cross national team since I was 18-years-old. So I know what it takes," she said.
Still, knowing what it takes and having the capacity to execute are two very different things.
Simmerling describes herself as a human sponge in training — soaking up as much technical feedback as she can from her cycling coaches and more experienced teammates.
And she had to push the envelope of her immense physical abilities.
"I'm not saying I didn't work hard in the gym as a ski racer, because I did. But cycling really has taken it to a whole new level," she said. "The time on the bike — on the track and the road — the workload that is simply required to be the best in the world is different.
"In ski cross I could lose to a competitor who is in far poorer shape than me because of luck or tactics. In cycling I feel it is so physically demanding that everything you put in to the sport you get out. If you don't put in the work, you won't see the results. That's where the two sports are so opposite."
Pedals over oars
Interestingly, cycling wasn't Simmerling's first choice for a summer sport.
Three years ago she decided to try rowing. Although her time in the sport was short lived she, not surprisingly, showed "phenomenal" ability according to Olympic rowing champion Ben Rutledge.
"She was able to row a single scull completely balanced, blades off the water, almost immediately," said Rutledge, who was working as a talent development coach. "I don't think I've seen an athlete pick up the sport so quickly."
Rutledge also remembers Simmerling putting up mind blowing scores in physical testing.
Even more impressive was her uncommon ability to push through pain and exhaustion.
"Some athletes get to a certain point and then stop," he said. "But some keep going, pushing harder. She was willing to push until her lips turned blue."
"We had frank discussions and I told her if you put the time in you could be in an Olympic class boat."
The problem was Simmerling couldn't make the time commitment because her ski cross career was thriving.
So, much to the dismay of Rowing Canada, she hung up her oars for good, finding a better time fit at the velodrome.
"Two springs ago I saw I could cycle and still be a ski racer," she said, confirming she has no intentions of hanging up the skis.
Rio first, then Pyeongchang
If all goes according to plan, Simmerling will add another notch to her Olympic belt at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, Korea.
But first there's the matter of winning a medal in Rio de Janeiro.
"I've had such an amazing experience and developed amazing friendships with my teammates," she said. "I'm so excited for what this team is capable of."
"We have the capability to win and bring gold home for Canada."