Gold medallist Kelsey Mitchell of Team Canada reacts during a medal ceremony for the track cycling women's sprint race at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021, in Izu, Japan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena

Olympic track cycling champ Kelsey Mitchell rides whirlwind into world championship

Olympic track cycling champ Kelsey Mitchell rides whirlwind into world championship

Kelsey Mitchell didn’t have time for a post-Olympic letdown.

Just over two months after winning track cycling’s women’s sprint in Tokyo, the 27-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta., will attempt to pair a world championship gold with her Olympic gold.

Mitchell and Tokyo bronze medallist Lauriane Genest of Levis, Que., lead 16 Canadians into the world track championship starting Wednesday in Roubaix, France.

Mitchell finished fourth in women’s sprint in 2020 in Berlin.

“I don’t have any hardware from worlds, so I’m going in hopes of bringing home a medal,” Mitchell told The Canadian Press. “If not, I’m going to give the best performance I can and we’ll see where that gets me.”

Mitchell produced Canada’s 24th medal and seventh gold of the Summer Olympics mere hours before Tokyo’s closing ceremonies Aug. 8.

After a pitstop in Alberta to celebrate with family and friends, be feted at soccer and football games, and do a round of interviews, she was back training at the velodrome in Milton, Ont., by the end of August.

Mitchell didn’t have time to say “what now?” after her Tokyo triumph with a world championship on the near horizon.

“I can definitely see how some athletes can go and have this amazing experience and kind of be like ‘now what?’” Mitchell said.

“My life kind of went back to normal, which was great for me. I can’t imagine taking a lot of time off.

“I felt very out of shape even after two weeks. I was happy to be back, trying to get back into shape and get ready for worlds. It’s amazing because it doesn’t stop.”

Mitchell became the second Canadian to win Olympic gold in track cycling following Edmonton’s Lori-Ann Muenzer in 2004.

Mitchell says Muenzer has told her in a post-Tokyo email to “enjoy the ride”.

Mitchell, Genest and Sarah Orban of Milton, Ont., tackle the women’s team sprint Wednesday in Roubaix’s Stab Velodrome.

Women’s sprint rounds start Thursday and conclude with Friday’s final.

Genest, who was third in the keirin in Tokyo, competes in it on the last day of racing Sunday. The keirin is a six-lap race. Cyclists sprint for the win after a controlled start behind a motorized or non-motorized pacer.

Mitchell’s backstory is as compelling as her dramatic dash to beat Ukraine’s Olena Starikova at the Izu Velodrome.

The former university soccer player was working as a county weed-sprayer and didn’t own a bike in 2017 when Cycling Canada recruited her via RBC Training Ground, which scores athletes over a series of competitive tests to match them with a sport.

Mitchell feels her story speaks to people outside of sport.

“I talk about young kids seeing me race and are inspired to take off the training wheels,” Mitchell said.

“But people who are a little bit older, even not in a sport world, but maybe at work, or maybe unhappy with work and they’re nervous to make a move or change their career, I feel like this story can inspire them.

‘It’s scary to take that risk, but if you’re willing to go all in, you never know what can happen. I think that was my mentality at the very beginning. ‘I’m going to go all-in and see what happens and regardless of what comes out of it.’

“Regardless of what happened, whether I got this gold medal or never made the national team, I think I would look back and have no regrets.”

Mitchell is working on speaking French because Genest is a close friend and her boyfriend and teammate Hugo Barrette is from Isles-de-la-Madeleine, Que.

Mitchell posts “French Fridays” videos on Instagram.

“It’s me practising about 20 times with my teammates, who are French, and then posting a video and trying to show my followers that I’m learning French, or trying to,” she explained.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Cycling