Hammer in hot pursuit of first track cycling gold for U.S. women
By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - When she walks into Rio de Janeiro's velodrome in August as the best hope to lead the U.S. women's track cycling team to its first Olympic gold medal, Sarah Hammer will be acutely aware she might easily never have seen that moment.
The 32-year-old Californian found her sport early -- she received her first racing bike for her ninth birthday -- but by the age of 20 was burned out, and decided in 2003 to retire from racing after just two years competing at the elite level.
The next summer, while watching the Athens Games on television at her apartment in Colorado Springs, she came to deeply regret that decision.
"I was thinking, 'Oh wow, this is what I missed. I love track racing and this is what I missed ... I just kind of threw it away'," she recalled thinking as she watched New Zealand's Sarah Ulmer claim the gold medal in the women's 3,000 meters individual pursuit in world-record time.
"At that point in time, I decided to come back and do it, do it right, that I was going to do it differently," said Hammer, who has held that very world record since 2010.
For Hammer, who began racing neighborhood friends on BMX bikes long before her father, Cliff, bought her that first Peugeot 10-speed, and went on to win her first junior national championship in 1995 at the age of 12, that meant leaving road cycling behind her.
"For many years, people said I was doing it wrong," Hammer said in a phone interview during a break from training earlier this year. "Now we are all specialists. People still obviously do road racing, but you do it for the track."