An Olympic MTB racing Mum
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. As many of you will know, the Olympic Games has come and gone in Rio de Janeiro. Obviously a multitude of sports going on there. But of course, over the last weekend was the mountain bike for men and women. The women on the Saturday, the men on the Sunday.
Small fields, 30 in the women and 49 in the men’s races. So tough to get a spot in the Rio mountain bike cross country. But one rider who is on the plane back and that’s where we’re sitting, on the plan back from Rio, Michelle Vorster from Namibia. Firstly, Michelle Vorster, Olympian, how does that sound?
Michelle Vorster: That sounds fantastic.
GDK: Where did this dream start or when did it become a reality? When did you think you could make it happen?
MV: It started about two years ago, I just wrote down my dream. My coach asked me what is my ultimate dream for my cycling career. I wrote it down on paper, Olympics. I folded it up and put it in my pocket and that’s where it stayed.
Then the reality actually got to me when we heard about South Africa that wasn’t going to get a spot. Then we’re the second NOC in line. Then I started realising, this is a reality. That was last year October/November and that’s where I started focusing on the Olympics.
It all happened so quickly
GDK: That’s the last two years, but there’s a whole lot more going on in your life isn’t there? You’re not a full-time professional mountain biker. You’re a mum, you’re a wife, you’ve got a life elsewhere. Tell us a bit about that.
MV: Well, I’m a mum of three kids and obviously a wife. So try to juggle my time between training and being the rest.
GDK: How old is your youngest kid?
MV: The youngest is five.
GDK: So that dream of getting to Rio really only germinated properly after that I would think?
GDK: Prior to that, what was your riding?
MV: I did a bit of triathlon. I ran a bit. But I only started cycling when we moved to Namibia. Which was about 3.5 years ago. That’s also where I started mountain biking.
GDK: Three and a half years of mountain biking, you’re on your way back from your first Olympics. How cool is that, it’s amazing!
MV: It’s pretty awesome. I’m feeling very blessed.
GDK: Now we’re going to go to your Olympic experience. You arrive in Rio, what was going on, what was going through your mind?
Olympic experience was amazing
MV: Wow, it was amazing just to be part of the Olympics. Obviously we were there, you can’t go to the Olympics and not go to the opening ceremony. So I was there for three weeks. Then we only rode the track from last week Wednesday. So I had to train on the roadies.
Their course, which was also awesome because it was so scenic and very nice. Then we walked the track on the Sunday before the race and it was like, oh no, this is terrible. I’ll never be able to do this. When we got to ride it, I actually loved the course. It was so well thought-out, so well designed, I loved it.
GDK: Had you done a World Cup before coming into this?
MV: Yes, I’ve been to the World Champs, in July. Then the World Cup in Lenzerheide.
GDK: You had a vague idea of what was going to happen. You knew the riders. You weren’t coming into it completely cold.
GDK: What was your emotion when you got onto the start line there and looked around you and realised where you were?
MV: It was sort of the same emotion that I had on the Worlds. Quite a big stage for us, coming from Namibia. But I must say, I was a bit more prepared this time. I knew what’s going to happen. I knew what’s waiting for me. But yes, my goal for the Olympics was just to better my position and just enjoy it.
How the race panned out
GDK: Tell us about that rock garden. The downtown rock garden, how was that?
MV: It looked horrendous when you had to walk it, it’s like a sea of rocks. Then when we sort of sussed the line, it was actually very easy just to ride it.
GDK: You’re obviously riding, preparing for the event – all the riders I suppose around here as well – you’re watching and learning and listening?
MV: Just followed Nev’s line, it was a good line, the fastest one.
GDK: A great opportunity to mix with them.
MV: Definitely, it was awesome to meet them and nice girls, very humble.
GDK: You told us what your aim was, do you feel you’ve achieved it?
MV: I really would have wanted to finish the race, not being pulled off on the 80% rule, which is quite brutal. But yes, I said to my husband: I don’t want to come last, which I didn’t. I actually came 26th, so I’m happy with that.
GDK: There was a crash on the first corner wasn’t there? We noticed you managed to get yourself through it didn’t you?
MV: Yes I did, only just.
GDK: What happened there?
MV: I don’t know, a touch of wheels, touch of handles, I didn’t see.
GDK: But you were safely around there, no crashes?
MV: It slowed us down, but it was fine.
GDK: And the rest of the course?
What has been the driving force?
MV: I had a little bit of a crash on the first lap, but nothing. As soon as I hit the ground I was on the bike again.
GDK: There are a lot of people out there who are thinking, hang on; here’s a mum of three, who in many other worlds might be not riding her bike at the Olympic Games and you are. What was the tick in your mind? What drove you? What was the driving force?
MV: I must say, I really hope it encourages other women to chase their dreams. If you set your mind to it, then go for it. It doesn’t mean if you’re a mother or a wife that you have to stop following your dreams. If you’ve got a dream, try to achieve it, go for it.
GDK: There’s a lot of technical aspects to mountain biking and you’ve only been doing it for three and a bit years. How did you hone all those?
MV: I must say, I great up, my brother was a motocross rider, so I grew up with that. I think just being on the bike when I was little, just kicked in with the cross country riding and the mountain bike riding.
GDK: There’s clearly an energy and a vibe about you now, there’s an excitement about it, so what’s next?
MV: I don’t know, probably the Desert Dash in December which is quite a big event. If you’re in Namibia and you’re not riding the Desert Dash, then you’re not a mountain biker. For me, I think I’ll take a rest for two weeks or so and see, maybe next year the African Champs is in Windhoek – I think – I’ll go for that.
Hope it really gives Namibian women’s cycling a boost
GDK: You’re the first Namibian woman to ride the mountain bike at the Olympics and I know Mannie and Mark Bassingthwaighte have ridden the men’s. What do you think this will do to women’s mountain biking in Namibia?
MV: I really and sincerely hope that it encourages other girls to get on their bikes and ride it. There’s so much talent that we’ve got. I don’t think they realise that you can actually go to the Olympics just by getting on your bike and setting yourself a goal.
GDK: What do you think is the holding back factor there?
MV: I’m not sure actually.
GDK: Is fear an issue?
MV: It’s about commitment, you’ve got to have that commitment to really –
GDK: It’s not a sport you can do half-heartedly is it?
MV: No, I take for example my oldest girl, she wants to ride a bike and she’s good. But she doesn’t want to get on it. You’ve got to have a passion for the sport, I almost want to say that.
GDK: Well, if she doesn’t get on her bike now….
MV: Yes, she says I’m her hero, so that’s quite awesome.
GDK: Your husband must be pretty chuffed.
MV: He is, he was also my coach/manager at the Olympics, which was very supportive and good for my mental state.
GDK: Your mental state seems fantastically positive now which is so good to see, a dream achieved.
MV: Definitely, 100%, 101%.
GDK: Michelle Vorster, thank you for chatting to us.
MV: Thank you very much.
GDK: Michelle Vorster who is an Olympian from Namibia on the mountain bike and whatever happens in the rest of your life, that’s what you’ll have.
MV: Yes, thank you very much.
GDK: Thanks for downloading, thanks for tuning in to our episode of our Old Mutual Live mountain bike podcast. We’ll have plenty more for you to listen to every week. So please download again, until next time, cheers.