Kelsey Mitchell’s track cycling talent emerges in time for Tokyo 2020

CALGARY — Kelsey Mitchell did not own a bike when she was recruited into track cycling.

Two years later, she’s a world-record holder and winner of international gold.

“I still don’t see myself as a cyclist,” Mitchell told The Canadian Press. “I’m an athlete and I’ve always been an athlete. I played different sports growing up. I played mostly endurance sports to be honest.

“To be in a power sport where your efforts are 30 seconds, that’s been quite the transition. I guess it is my sport.”

The 25-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta., set a world record in the women’s flying 200-metre sprint in Bolivia during the Pan American track cycling championship earlier this month.

Mitchell lowered the previous mark held for six years by Olympic champion Kristina Vogel of Germany from 10.384 seconds to 10.154.

Mitchell also won women’s sprint gold Aug. 5 at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, less than a year after donning the skin suit adorned with the Maple Leaf for the first time.

Her meteoric rise began when a Cycling Canada recruiter witnessed the raw power in her legs at an RBC Training Ground session in September of 2017.

“Biking was never a thing I did,” Mitchell said. “I hadn’t owned a bike since I was 12.”

In its fourth year, Training Ground is the creation of the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Olympic Foundation, CBC Sports, national sport institutes and the bank sponsor.

The goal of the program, open to athletes between the ages of 14 and 25, is to widen and deepen the pool of high-performance athletes by recruiting them from all levels of different sports.

Their speed, power, strength and endurance are measured via a series of tests, which are then made available to national sports federations.

Of the 2,000 who entered 30 qualifying events across Canada in 2019, 100 have been invited to Saturday’s national final in Calgary to be tested again.

Mitchell was among seven Training Ground graduates who competed for Canada in cycling, track and field, canoe and kayak at the Pan Am Games in Peru.

She and decathlete Pierce LePage are frontrunning to be the first Olympians next year in Tokyo.

LePage, from Whitby, Ont., is ranked No. 6 in the world in men’s decathlon three years after participating in Training Ground.

A former university soccer player, Mitchell felt more suited to bobsled or rowing when she registered for a regional qualifier in Toronto in September of 2017.

But she captured the attention of Cycling Canada’s pathway development manager Jesse Korf.

Mitchell generated 1,300 peak wattage on a stationary bike wearing running shoes, without the aid of clip-in shoes.

“Watts are essentially an expression of energy or power being generated,” Korf recalled. “She got a really high power number.

“She had really good natural progression when we put her on the track.

“We do an interview in our follow-up tests, which include a questionnaire and a pretty length follow-up conversation, and she was really impressive there as well.”

Mitchell’s first spins in the velodrome in Milton, Ont., were painful, however, because she didn’t own padded cycling shorts.

“I was so sore after,” she recalled.

She continued to have doubts that winter while spinning on a stationary bike in Edmonton.

“I was training full time but thinking ‘I don’t know if I love this because I’m not going anywhere. I’m sitting here spinning, uncomfortable and staring outside at snow,”’ Mitchell recalled.

“But then I got asked to come train with the national team in May. I went on the track for a month and thought ‘OK. I love this. I like going fast.”’

Still new to her sport, there are areas where Mitchell can find more speed.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the people I’m going to race are going to have more experience than me whether that’s on the bike in general or just racing,” she said.

“I can’t control the fact I don’t have the experience that everyone else has. The only thing I can control is the work ethic that I have.

“My power numbers are there. What I can fix is my positioning on the bike, my tactics, my technique. I can definitely improve a lot.”

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