Erica Green – female Mountain biking pioneer
08 August 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. It’s really kind of you to do so and taking time out to listen to our natter about mountain biking. Which is obviously a sport that has captured the imagination of South Africans.
From a participation perspective and from a viewing perspective, more and more of it on television. We’re seeing the best riders in the world week in and week out at the World Cups. We’re also seeing so many people riding races around the country with the multitude of stage races that we’ve got in this country.
So, how do they get there and how do they get on their bikes and end up becoming stars or just an ordinary Joe who likes to ride his bike and get better and better? They get coaching and advice and training and there are various places to go to. One of them is to visit a house in Somerset West and come and visit Erica Green who is a coach and runs a coaching set-up. Erica, thanks for having us here at your house.
Erica Green: It’s a big pleasure, the coffee is on the brew, just hang on….
GDK: Erica, coaching is something you do and we’ll come to that, but I think let’s just go back to your life as a mountain biker. I know there was also road racing as well, but how did that all start, when did you ride your first bike?
My introduction to bike riding
EG: Okay, I finished school, I won’t say which year. Then I was completely directionless after school. I think there’s many youngsters out there these days who just can’t picture themselves doing anything. I really, that’s close to my heart. But anyway, I landed up going overseas with my then boyfriend, very much to my mom’s dislike.
I was riding horses at that stage and I landed up riding for an Olympic Dressage trainer in Switzerland. We ate, slept, drank, whatever, horses all day. It was actually the Sydney Olympics in 2000 that we were aiming for and that was way back in 1990/91, around there. After two years with him, it was just a little bit too much with the whole horsey world . I came back to South Africa, also not quite sure what to do.
I landed up in a little job in the bank and bought a bicycle. I think probably having done things at that level for two years, it was a natural thing to want to strive for more or better. I just kind of noticed that the harder I trained or the more I trained, the stronger I became, so the rest is history.
GDK: What was your first race?
EG: It was a race out in Malmesbury, I think, just a big lap race, sorry, a cross country. In those days our laps were about 12km a lap, unlike the 5km. So if you had a problem, you were stuck. It was actually, no, I think it was a race here at Helderberg College, very steep terrain. I think I came third behind Alta Kriegler and Karen Poll from PPA.
I was completely hooked. I think horses, mountain biking, there’s definitely a close tie, cross country or going for an out ride. I really enjoyed the endurance part, the training part. I’ve just realised, the more you do something, the better you become at it.
Still getting to live the Olympic dream
GDK: You obviously became quite a lot better at it because you went to the Olympic Games on the bike instead didn’t you?
EG: Yes, that’s also another interesting thing because I wasn’t in cycling long. It was really a question of, literally picking up the phone and saying to the Federation look, I’m quite keen to go to the Olympics, what do I need to do?
Really, and I think people don’t really realise that that’s the power they hold. If you want to do something, take the first step and find out what you need to do to get there and go and do it. It’s almost, once you have some sort of criteria or plan in place, you just have to keep going. Yes, it was good time, hard times, but good times.
GDK: Tell us about those Olympic experiences, briefly, I know it was a huge experience.
EG: Yes, so, I started really cycling, well first got on a bike in 1991. I was actually involved with our little local road group and mountain bike group. Then in the season had swapped over to track racing, I was doing track as well. I think I can now appreciate having experienced all the disciplines, from track to road to time trialling to downhill racing to cross country, it’s just great. I’m very fortunate to have been exposed to that.
So, finding out the criteria for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, I will say it was easier that year. Because the criteria wasn’t as hectic as it was for the following year. But that definitely was probably the golden years, was that up, when you’re on the way up and just travelling. The travelling was really tough and the thing is, once you get into that washing machine, you’ve got to stay and not drown.
From a training point of view, my husband Spooke was managing and coaching me at the time. In fact, he’s done it for all the years that I’ve been racing and training. But we just landed up with the most amazing people around us, supporting us. It’s a really surreal, I mean the guys and girls who have been selected for the Rio Olympics, you really are in for something that’s life-changing. Not easy, the selection is fresh in our minds and it’s pretty brutal. But you know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Skills have got better and the girls have got faster!
GDK: I know you certainly raced the mountain bike there and I suppose in many ways, as you were saying, mountain biking was starting to really take hold. What was your experience and what was your feeling about the women’s mountain bike race? How far you were you behind or where you were in that set-up?
EG: Yes, it’s been interesting also watching the level of races here in South Africa. I would say the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 was probably my best performance. I did the road race and the mountain bike race, finishing 17th in the mountain bike race. I think I was six minutes off the leaders in that race.
Then Sydney, it was a let-down in my mind because I got sick. I got that dreaded Sydney flu about ten days before and you know, I was probably recovered. But the damage had already been done. Anyway, it was still a wonderful experience.
If I look back at what has changed, the equipment has changed. In those days our bikes were the best bikes and the courses. If I see just the difference between the Atlanta Olympics course and the Sydney Olympics course, they were like chalk and cheese in what they’ve got now.
Oh my gosh, I’m not sure I’d have the guts to be doing the courses now because they really have evolved. Yes, the speed and the training of the women, I think watching the men’s racing and then the women’s racing. The racing is just as fierce in the women. It might be a little bit slower, but we’re chicks!
No women going to the Olympics
GDK: South Africa haven’t got any women going to the cross country at the Olympics, which is disappointing. What do we need to do?
EG: You know Gerald, that’s such a question in my mind and it’s close to my heart. Because I’ve just did a Level 3 Coaching Course at UCI last year. Where we were sitting, top coaches from all over the world. New Zealand is one and I’m going to point these out.
Because the reason why their riders are doing so well is because the support that they get, not only from the Federation and I can get my knuckles rapped here, I don’t really mind. But it’s all about the athletes there. They’ve got very fair programmes from youngsters, their kids are, and not just New Zealand, we were there with Singapore, Poland, a lot of other Federations.
The focus on the youngsters is skills based and I’ve been watching the results, with the men and the women, internationally, for the last couple of years because I’m obviously interested. I thought to myself, why is South Africa still not able to produce more Burry Stander’s?
What made Burry just so brilliant and if you look back, it was his environment really. We had this lovely story about the dolphins and what makes a dolphin swim so fast in the water and actually, it’s the water and I think it’s an iceberg. I think if that’s the attitude, if we can create a better environment for our athletes.
Not necessarily bringing in the fanciest bikes and things like that. But if we can bring in more pro-athletes just to come and talk to our athletes or Master Coaches just to come and talk to the coaches, just to get that self-belief. I think it’s not an easy answer to say what can make our athletes better.
We’re definitely very complacent in this country, we’ll do just what’s necessary. I was chatting to a youngster who has the potential to become a pro, but he didn’t want that lifestyle and that’s great. He’s very honest and it’s not easy being a professional athlete. Who knows, is it a training thing, is it an attitude thing, is it an environmental thing….
South Africans bent on volume over intensity
GDK: Are we not too marathon and stage race focused as a country and therefore our youngsters see the biggest profile event on television is the Cape Epic. Is that an area we’ve got to look at?
EG: Yes, I think that’s bringing it back to my point that I made earlier. South Africans are very bent on volume instead of intensity. Intensity is probably much more difficult. Somebody once said that Burry Stander, if you have a series of circles, Burry was one of the only guys that could get to that middle circle from an intensity point of view. Obviously volume is much easier because not as hard. Yes, South Africans definitely seem to have in mind more is better when in actual fact I think if you can go harder, that’s better.
Then from a skills point of view, a lot of our pro riders also came into the sport a little bit later and perhaps didn’t have that skills. The skills window and if we can put more emphasis on skills coaching for children, instead of having; I mean imagine the Spur Series form high school upwards racing, but the primary schools is skills competitions –
GDK: Not races.
EG: Exactly –
GDK: Which is what they do in Europe and Switzerland.
EG: If you Google all over the place, France, the best nations in the world, their kids start off with skills. That’s something that I would love to see, I would love to see that happen in South Africa.
GDK: But, having said all that, the things like Spur Series and the junior events are creating an environment, aren’t they?
EG: Absolutely, if you look at the numbers of cross country riders at the last couple of Nationals, in the cross country, it’s grown phenomenally. If you look at the pool of riders in the junior and the youth men at the moment and the women, I must say the women’s numbers are picking up, the girls numbers.
So that is definitely very encouraging to see. It could boil down to just the exposure, exposing your kids to short racing. But listen to what I’m saying, short racing, but intense racing. I think that’s a great platform to start off with. So, absolutely, the Spur has done a phenomenal job in what they’re doing.
GDK: You talked about an iceberg a little while ago and I think we’re just on the tip of that iceberg in chatting to you. There’s so much to talk about, so what we’re going to do is we’ll do that again another time. But Erica, thanks for chatting to me here on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, a wealth of information, knowledge and enthusiasm and passion about the sport of cycling and mountain biking in particular, wonderful to hear. Erica Green chatting to us here in Somerset West and if you want to have a little insight into what Erica does as a business and coaching, go to their website.
EG: Yes and that’s www.daisyway.co.za.
GDK: There you have it and you’ll learn even more about this great sport of mountain biking. We’ll chat to you again next time on our Old Mutual Mountain Live podcast, until then, cheers.