Canada's Catharine Pendrel wins Olympic mountain bike bronze after early crash
Canadian teammate Emily Batty finishes 4th
By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports
Catharine Pendrel of Kamloops, B.C., overcame an early crash that dropped her to 15th place to win the bronze medal in the women's cross-country mountain bike race at the Rio Olympics on Saturday.
"It's unbelievable," said Pendrel. "Before the race I would have been happy with my career if I didn't have an Olympic medal, but I'm sure happy that I do."
Pendrel finished in a time of one hour 31 minutes 41 seconds, two seconds faster than teammate Emily Batty of Brooklin, Ont., who placed fourth. Sweden's Jenny Rissveds won gold in 1:30.15 and Poland's Maja Wloszczowska the silver in 1:30.52.
"At the beginning of the race with getting in a crash at the start and then my shifting stopped working and it was just like: 'Everything is going wrong,'" Pendrel said. "I'm used to having bad starts, luckily, and I know I can work through a field. We had prepared for every scenario.
"I knew that I could close a gap and that's what I set about doing today."
Pendrel's medal was the first by a Canadian in the event since Marie-Hélène-Prémont captured silver at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Alison Sydor also won silver at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
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MEDAL ALERT | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CAN?src=hash">#CAN</a> Catharine Pendrel wins <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bronze?src=hash">#Bronze</a> in women's cross-country mountain bike. <a href="https://t.co/JAoL0ve2RK">https://t.co/JAoL0ve2RK</a> <a href="https://t.co/hslSEpAc8f">https://t.co/hslSEpAc8f</a>—@CBCOlympics
Pendrel fought her way to a bronze medal with teammate <a href="https://twitter.com/emilybatty">@emilybatty</a> just behind her for 4th <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/grit?src=hash">#grit</a>&determination <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bronze?src=hash">#Bronze</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/TeamCanada">@TeamCanada</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MtnBike?src=hash">#MtnBike</a>—@HuynhCarol
It was a day of redemption for the 35-year-old Pendrel, who wouldn't confirm before Saturday's race that she would soon retire.
A medal favourite four years ago, Pendrel was in front early at the London Olympics but couldn't sustain the pace, finishing ninth.
Leading up to these Olympics, the 2015 Pan Am silver medallist became hyper-focused on her mental state and took up yoga, which turned into meditation. Pendrel also added regular work with a sport psychologist and daily visualization — which included preparation for jostling at the start of the race — to help her improve early on.
Well, it wasn't a good start to Saturday's race as the 2016 World Cup champion fell to the ground in the start loop in a reportedly unavoidable crash.
Congrats <a href="https://twitter.com/cpendrel">@cpendrel</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/emilybatty">@emilybatty</a> on some great racing today! Not for the faint of heart <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Rio2016?src=hash">#Rio2016</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/worldclass?src=hash">#worldclass</a> <a href="https://t.co/I18do8xp7P">https://t.co/I18do8xp7P</a>—@wick_22
But Pendrel, a three-time Olympian who finished fourth in 2008, didn't panic and battled back into medal contention. Pendrel sat eighth midway through the six-lap competition, a grueling five-kilometre circuit, and was among the top five through four laps.
By the start of the sixth and final lap, the 2014 world champion was in third spot, with Batty close behind in fourth.
On fire! <a href="https://twitter.com/CyclingCanada">@CyclingCanada</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/cpendrel">@cpendrel</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/emilybatty">@emilybatty</a> charging into medal position!!!@TeamCanada <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CyclingMountainBike?src=hash">#CyclingMountainBike</a> <a href="https://t.co/UZXqtzN79r">pic.twitter.com/UZXqtzN79r</a>—@jtolkamp
The two Canadians sprinted to the finish, with Pendrel looking back at her teammate in the last few feet.
Pendrel spent the winter working on her descent skills and it paid off late in the race as the course featured a 40-degree descent — the name referring to the warm Brazilian weather — down a "staircase" made of wooden beams.
There is also a rocky descent that points toward the downtown area of Rio, a section made by course designer and ex-mountain biker Nick Floros of South Africa using rocks from a local quarry.
Batty, like Pendrel, also had issues with the 2012 Olympics, where she crossed the line in 24th while nursing a broken collarbone and rib sustained in training three days before the race.
"After London with a broken collarbone, to being 10 metres from a bronze medal, it is a heartbreak," said Batty. "My preparation was amazing. I raced clean and I rode incredibly strong and just missed a medal by a couple of bike lengths so I have some mixed emotions."
Batty fought back from her disappointment in 2012 with the help of her husband and coach, Adam Morka, a mountain biker himself.
"We've worked together for the past seven years now so closely, it's been pretty much two athletes brainstorming and working towards one goal," Batty told CBC Sports ahead of these Olympics.
The 28-year-old reached the podium at worlds for the first time this year with a bronze. Batty beat Pendrel for gold at last year's Pan Am Games in Toronto after losing to her in the 2014 Commonwealth Games final while also posting three top-five finishes in her six World Cup starts in 2015.
Saturday's competition went as scheduled after the Rio course was unaffected last Monday by a nearby wildfire that burned near the venue.
With files from The Canadian Press