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Transcript: Player's Own Voice podcast with Kelsey Mitchell

As Beijing begins, podcast host Anastasia Bucsis asks Canada's most recent gold medallist- Kelsey Mitchell- to share some insights that any athlete- winter or summer- might find helpful in competition

text of interview with gold medal track cyclist

Transcript of Player's Own Voice podcast. Guest:  Kelsey Mitchell

podcast release date Feb 6 2022

Anastasia: Their schedules seldom overlap, but winter and summer Olympians have a great deal in common, and that is never more true than right about now, with a new Olympic Games underway on the brink of competing… years of preparation coming to a head. All athletes can relate to this moment.

We're chatting today with an inspirational athlete. Track cyclist Kelsey Mitchell was still quite new to her sport when she brought home gold from Tokyo 2020. The beginner's mindset, as Zen Masters say? The longer you can hold on to it, the better.

It's player's own voice. I'm Anastasia Bucsis.

[music]

 First and foremost, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. You're probably thinking it's the Winter Olympics, so why are you talking to a summer Olympian? But I want to talk to you about expectations and the burden of expectations because you picked up a bike and then you won an Olympic Gold Medal. Did anyone tell you your first game should just be to learn the ropes

Kelsey Mitchell: from the very beginning I think I had my dreams pretty big. And my eyes set on the prize, and I definitely had some coaches that said, you know, 'one thing at a time, like, it's a process you have to trust. The process is going to take time to learn the sport'  and it definitely did take time. But I was just laser focussed, ready to go, locked in. And so my goal was to go to the Olympics. And I just knew that whether it happened or not, I was going to give my best every single day and whatever happened happened. And then it ended up being a gold medal at the Olympics.

And so obviously I couldn't ask for anything more and it was at such an amazing experience and I learnt a lot along the way. And the journey itself was the real victory. And I am continuing on this journey and it's pretty incredible. But yeah, the Gold Medal at the Olympics was the cherry on top. That's for sure.

Anastasia: So what sort of expectations did you carry into Tokyo?

Kelsey Mitchell: Honestly, I think just being a little bit older of an athlete, I have a pretty good mentality and it was just to go and get my absolute best. And that's all I could ask for on that day. And if that was fourth place finish or on top of the  first step, then I think I'd walk away with my head held high and I was able to do that and even get in fifth, fifth place in the Keirin I was really excited about that because I gave it my all and then I got to watch my team-mates get the bronze medal and I had front row seats to that. So yeah, it was. Yeah, that was kind of the goal going into is just having the best performance of my life and leave it all out there.

Anastasia: But you must have known that having the best performance of your life would result probably in some hardware. Right? So there must have been some internal pressure.

Kelsey Mitchell: We had no idea where everyone else was that we hadn't raced in over 500 days and, you know, we were training super hard, but we had no idea of what anyone else was doing. They were obviously training as well. And yeah, I had gotten fourth at the Worlds, five hundred days before, and so I had a feeling.  I had a feeling I could do it. I just had to execute.

Anastasia: 500 days. What?  is it like - Sorry for the pun-  Like riding a bike?  500 days you hadn't raced?

Kelsey Mitchell: Yeah. I mean, you can simulate a race as best as you can in training and race against. Our coach has like an electric bike, that he'll race us on or we can race team-mates. But it's obviously completely different when you're out there and you're racing against the rest of the world and the pressure's on. But yeah, we were ready. We were prepared.

Anastasia: You've talked a lot about visualisation and obviously a lot of athletes do it. I certainly would visualise until the cows came home, but you visualise yourself on the podium. How much credit do you give to visualisation in that success?

Kelsey Mitchell: It's yeah, visualisation is, I think, a tricky, a tricky thing. And I I probably don't spend as much time on it as I should, but I could see it. I could see myself on that top step, and I wouldn't even mean to think about it. I picture it going to bed and I get all my heart rate would get up and I'm like, No, not now. This isn't the time, but I could see it happening. And I just. Yeah, I believed in myself, I believed in the work I had put in, and I'm just so grateful I was able to execute it on race day and be on the top step and hear the national anthem and see my team and know everyone back home was singing along. It was a moment I will never forget.

Anastasia: You won via, you know, obviously best out of three, and you use two very different techniques or tactics. First one, you led the entire thing. Second one was a little bit more of a game of cat and mouse. How much of that two strategy was planned? Or did it just happen? Did it just happen in the moment?

Kelsey Mitchell: To be honest, I usually like to. Well, from racing. A year and a half before or two years before that, I'd always liked to race from the front. Just I had a pretty good engine and I could hold on to that speed. And then at the Olympics, for some reason, racing from the back was kind of my jam and I was able to come around in the races leading up to the final. And then when I got to the final, the Ukrainian, who I was racing for gold also liked to race from the back and so I switched the strategy and took the front. And I just I don't know if I raced the best tactically or technically compared to other riders. I just was the strongest there and I executed the way I needed to cross that line first. And so and actually the second race, I dove under and I never, ever do that. So that was a big moment, learning moment, and my coach was proud because he told me to do that and I never do. And I guess I saved it for the last race of the Olympics to do it.

Anastasia: Did you have a moment where you're like, Oh my gosh, I just did something that I've never done before. On the biggest stage?

Kelsey Mitchell: I had a lot of moments. I had a lot of moments where I'm just like, What am I doing? There's so many thoughts and people will ask, like, how did you feel when you crossed the line? And I don't even know. I think I blacked out because I just I don't remember. I just know all the emotions were coming in. I'm looking around for my team-mates and I don't know what I was supposed to do…. I'm trying to grab a flag and the Canadian flag is in my face and I'm trying to ride. No. It was just like, just, it was a lot, but it was very special.

Anastasia:  One of my biggest fears is actually riding with no hands on a bike, especially a fixie and going over the handlebars. Have you passed that fear, or is that still very real fear for you?

Kelsey Mitchell: I think it's always in the back of my mind, like I'm strapped into this bike going 70 K now or I'm riding really slow, but trying to go no hands. And it's just like, I think before the Olympics, I was like, Don't do anything stupid and don't break anything just like ride safely. And so maybe now I'll learn how to actually ride better with no hands. But yeah, it's definitely still a concern. You're not the only one!.

Anastasia: So looking back then, how closely did you follow your plan going into the games?

Kelsey Mitchell: You know, to be honest, I had a little bit of a cold like a week before I raced. And let me tell you, you can do everything right and follow everything you're supposed to do. And a week before you're supposed to race at your first Olympics, you can feel like poop. You know, so I was a little bit stressed with that. And then when I was starting to feel better a couple of days before, I was like, OK, it's meant to be. I'm meant to feel good on race day and everything's coming together nicely, and I just had to trust the process the whole time. And so that stress went away and then I was just so happy and grateful to be feeling good and be able to race. And so, yeah, there's the ups and downs and stuff doesn't go according to plan and sometimes you exceed expectations. But it was …I wouldn't change anything of my experience, to be honest. It was perfect.

Anastasia: Oh, that's a good answer, because yeah, you did come away with some pretty shiny hardware. We saw each other right after Tokyo, and we had a candid conversation about the fact that you had to get on a plane right away and go compete at World Championships! Was what was that like? I mean, after an Olympics, all you want to do is just eat Nutella and sleep!

Kelsey Mitchell: I'm eating peanut butter, not Nutella. But yeah, I get what you're saying. Yeah, I had two weeks at home and honestly, it was a little bit crazy with like media and friends and family and still COVID was going on and so trying to be cautious with that. But I love what I do every day. I love the daily grind. I love my routine. I love eating the same thing every single day. It's just that's my lifestyle now, and I came back to it and came back maybe a little quicker than most people would have liked.

But I was back training towards worlds and I actually got Third at Worlds, which was my first medal, but obviously I'm the reigning Olympic champion, and so pressure's on. And so now that fire's relit under my butt and I'm ready to get back into it and try and win some more.

Anastasia: Was it difficult to maintain your focus or, you know,  the momentum from Tokyo to worlds? Because it can be it can be tough to peak and then maintain that peak.

Kelsey Mitchell: Mm hmm. I definitely was not the same level that I was at the Olympics. You know, it was basically a year and a half peak training just for that. We didn't race at all, other than that. So I think I kind of cut myself some slack and just took the two weeks and knew that I wouldn't potentially be at my absolute best, come worlds. But I think mentally I needed that just to take a little break, a little breather and then slowly get back into it. And so now we're grinding hard every day. We're back in Ontario training and you know, our next race isn't for a couple of months. And so time to put some muscle back on and get used to sitting in the saddle. And so, yeah, it was a quick turnaround. But I love to race, and so it was nice to be able to race again after having gone so long without any races.

[music]

Anastasia: OK, so let's get something out of the way for a few of our listeners. They might not know, or they might be shocked to find out that you didn't even really own a bike two years before you absolutely smashed the world record in the 200 metre, which 10 seconds, by the way? For 200 metres that is  quite a feat. But I mean, you're obviously a genuine, absolute talented athlete, very hardworking as well. Can you give me a little backstory as to what your previous sporting experience was?

Kelsey Mitchell: Yeah. So a variety of sports, my whole childhood soccer was the main one, played it at university, and the way I describe it is, I was always an athlete. I wasn't the one getting all the threes in basketball or scoring all the goals in soccer, but I was, you know, working hard to get back on defence or… you know, I was I was a workhorse and that's what I did. I was the grinder, as people would say, on the field. And so that was my role. And so when I switched to cycling, there is tactics and technical skills that go into it, for sure. But if you have that raw power and you can put it into the bike, you can go pretty fast.

And so another thing going for me was they said I had a natural, a good natural pedal stroke, which apparently is…

Anastasia: What does that mean? I didn't have that, I guess.

Kelsey Mitchell: Yeah, I pedalled in a nice circle, so I don't know how else you can pedal, but …

Anastasia: You know who taught me how to pedal was Clara Hughes. This is how she described it. She said, Imagine  you just stepped in dog poo and you're trying to scrape the dog poo off the bottom of your shoe on a curb. Is that what you envisioned?

Kelsey Mitchell: There's that visualisation skill coming in!   I don't know what I envision. I just know that I could barely finish the warm up with the team and I'm like, "What's going on?"  I need to be… my body's just like, you need to be as efficient as possible to be able to keep up with any of these people. And so I think I just started a little bit later, so I didn't learn any of the bad habits. And that just, I guess, helped me improve as quickly as I did because if people saw me at the beginning, they would probably not think that in a few years I'd be an Olympic champion.

Anastasia: It takes a special person too to race, and I'm not saying that to  pat myself on the back, but I have so many friends, right? I'm sure you have so many friends, that play, a million sports. And you know, I've talked to hockey players that have won multiple Olympic gold medals and they're like, I ran track in high school once and like, I've never been more nervous than stupid racing. So is that just inherent or did you learn to love it?

Kelsey Mitchell: Racing? Yeah, this sport, like any race against the clock or race that's over, it comes down to a tenth of a second. It is stressful. You know, like I'm used to 90 minute soccer games. You can make a mistake and you have team-mates to back you or you have time to get back and make up for a goal or a mistake. But in track cycling and sprint specifically, you mess up, it's over.

And so, yeah, and I just I have high expectations on myself. And so even from early on when people didn't know who I was and didn't expect really anything out of me, I was going out there to win and do my best. And so, the pressure was there. Never in my life have I struggled to eat before a game or before race day. But holy nerves, are yeah, a thing.

It's been a journey. I'm still nervous for every race that I do, but I've learnt little tricks that help me calm down or be prepared. I know that I can eat applesauce and liquids, but I can't have a sandwich before racing, and that's OK because I figured that out. And so being still new to the sport, but I now have, you know, almost all the biggest races I could possibly do under my belt, and so anything now is just repeat and do better.

Anastasia: There's nothing worse than race day bathroom breaks. Yeah, like that. There should be a whole podcast series just dedicated to how often that happens. You lose like ten pounds because you're so nervous.

Kelsey Mitchell: Yeah, this isn't an ad, but Pepto Bismol is my go to best friend on race day.

Anastasia: Yeah, it's funny, though, that we're talking about the nerves because your cheer squad. I think Sherwood Park Peanut Gallery?  You have some funny people in your corner. I love your mom had said something around the fact like, I can't believe that you bought shoes which were that expensive. You can't even walk in with with your clips, of course. And then someone in Tokyo had a sign that said, "Bring home gold or don't come home at all". And I'm like, I need that person in my life. That's the best thing that anyone could say.

Kelsey Mitchell: Yeah, They're Oh, my support group is absolutely incredible there. They keep me levelheaded. They keep me humble, but they also pump my tires and make me feel good. They're just, yeah, they were there from day one and still be there with me all the way to the end. And so, yeah, they're incredible. And yes, some of them are funny and make funny jokes about me. And it's yeah.

Anastasia: What's the best thing you can hear prior to a race because the don't come home at all? That would almost be what I needed to hear because I'd need to have a good laugh.

Kelsey Mitchell: That was good. That was really good. Yeah, harsh, but good. It worked. And I think honestly, I think after the race is when I'm hardest on myself. Obviously, if it doesn't go as planned and I've been watching Ted Lasso, I don't know if you've seen that series, but

Anastasia: I've seen it, of course.

Kelsey Mitchell: There you go. And there's that line where it's like he tells his player to be a goldfish to forget about his mistake. And I I messed up. I did a Champions League racing for about two months over in Europe back in November, and I messed up in the race and I just got a text from my dad and he just said, Be a goldfish. And I was like, Oh, OK.

[music]

Anastasia: Listen, I see a million and one fixes in downtown Toronto. Our bikes are not meant to have gears and brakes or are you like a fixie supporter? That's my question.

Kelsey Mitchell: I'm a fixie supporter on the track. I cannot imagine not having brakes on the open road.

Anastasia: It's scary.

Kelsey Mitchell: Sometimes we'll do. We'll take our track bikes and we'll go on like a private, private road, but quiet road and do some efforts on there. And I am pooping myself the whole time, let me tell you. It is scary. There's wind, maybe a squirrel will jump, so I don't know and I can't slow down because I don't have brakes, but it's good training and I'm still learning. You know, I had to change my saddle on my bike other day, and it probably took me like an hour to figure out. But you know, it's all part of the process.

Anastasia: Your partner Hugo Barrette also cycles, of course. So are you guys? You guys train a lot together. Who squats more? That's what I'm trying to get to.

Kelsey Mitchell: He definitely squats more, unfortunately. No, I'm not even close. So he takes the cake on that one. I don't know his thoughts on fixed gears on the on the road. Good question.

Anastasia: And I'm not out to get anyone, by the way, with the with the question around fixies, I just I'm always like, Are you not afraid to go over your handlebars? That's scary.

Kelsey Mitchell: Yeah. Have you tried the track? Velodrome?

Anastasia: I have. Yeah, we used to have to do it actually, a lot for cross-training, and I really appreciated it in comparison to road cycling. I like it way more.  I mean, I'm a sprinter. I'm a sprinter. .

Kelsey Mitchell: Yeah, I know how you feel. I know what you're saying.

Anastasia: Yeah, I would like to…. I've never been out in Milton, though, so I would love to do that because I have been told that I live a very sedentary life now. So I mean, I need to get back in the saddle, as they say.

Kelsey Mitchell: Well, you're welcome any time. We'll do two laps and then take a break.

Anastasia: Yeah, OK. We're definitely on the same page there.

[music]

When I was growing up, as you know, we were both growing up,. Lori- Ann Muenzer was and is, you know, the hallowed name in Canadian track cycling. And now that's you. And how does that feel? Is it a motivator or is it a distraction?

Kelsey Mitchell: Motivator. Definitely. Yeah. I mean, it's cool actually Lori- Ann Muenzer trained at the velodrome that I kind of started in or started on events in Alberta, and so I obviously never really crossed paths with her. She retired back in 2004, I believe, but I remember when I started track cycling, I heard about her and read her book and met her briefly. And yeah, I mean, it's really cool to be the first or the second woman to win a medal in track cycling in Canada.

But you know, you just want more people to do it. You want to keep that train going. And it's pretty cool to see there's a indoor velodrome being built in Quebec, and they just cleared  an indoor track in Edmonton, Alberta, as well. And so the sport's growing and I just I am so glad that people actually saw the event at the Olympics and were interested in it. And I hope,  hope more people want to get on the bike and you know, this pandemic's been a roller coaster.

But one thing that's been a positive is a lot of people have been reintroduced to cycling and the industry is booming and people are getting out there with their kids and hopefully the sport just keeps on growing and it's cool to see.

 

Anastasia: You strike me as an all-in human being, like you. You went for it, you dive in headfirst, of course, played university level soccer. Very, very competitive. And then you just seemingly uprooted your life and followed a dream. Where does that mindset come from?

Kelsey Mitchell: Yeah, I've always been like that. I'm all or nothing, I'm laser focussed on one thing and has its good and bad in my life.  So I had heard about RBC training ground and kKnew it was kind of my last chance to maybe continue my athletic career, and that was kind of my goal when I went to it was I just loved being an athlete and after I'd finished university soccer, I wasn't ready to be done. And so the goal was to still be a full time athlete.

And so when I attended the training grounds, I was open to anything and cycling obviously was interested and they were ready to sign me as a fast tracked athlete. And I committed all in,  and moved across the country and just been training every single day since. And I have no regrets and all or nothing. Definitely. That's how I would describe myself.

Anastasia: What are you cautious about then?

Kelsey Mitchell: I I think things through afterwards! After I commit, after I moved., I'm like " How am I going to pay rent? I'm not working?"  and you know, you think about it after and you figure it out. And so. I'm cautious afterwards, after I make the decision and the big move.

Anastasia: ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Kelsey Mitchell: There you go.

Anastasia: I will take you up on that offer, though. I think we should find ourselves in Milton.

Kelsey Mitchell: Yes. Well, I'm here all the time.

Anastasia: So the last time I rode my bike, though, it was in between visiting vineyards. So that's really where we're starting. OK, so there's some raw material, but they're pretty raw.

Kelsey Mitchell: OK, like I said two laps, and we'll take a water break. Not a wine break. Sorry, but we'll take a water break and we'll get back out there. We'll take it slow. Yeah. One lap at a time.

Anastasia: What if? What if it's a sparkling wine cooler that's close enough to water?

Kelsey Mitchell: Maybe after after ten laps, we'll take a little bit longer break

Anastasia: I won't make it. I won't make it to 10. Wow. Oh Lord. Thank you so much for taking the time, Kelsey. I appreciate it so much.

Kelsey Mitchell: Thanks for having me.

Anastasia: Peace. I recorded that chat with my Alberta homie, Kelsey Mitchell, just before coming here to Beijing.  Player's Own Voice podcast is a CBC Sports production. We're available on CBC Listen and everywhere else you get your podcasts. Social media hashtag Player's Own Voice. My handle is Anastasure. Olivia Pascquarelli edits our audio. Adam Blinov wrote our theme music. David Giddens is our producer. Lots more from Beijing in the coming days. Thanks for listening.

[music]

 

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