Track cyclist Kelsey Mitchell put an exclamation mark on Canada’s Olympics.
The Sherwood Park, Alta., native won gold in the sprint event on Sunday in Tokyo, earning the country’s 24th medal of these Games.
“My dream was to go to the Olympics, and I think deep down my goal was to be an Olympic champion like anyone who comes here, and just to see it kind of come true is an incredible feeling,” Mitchell said, fighting for breath and through tears after the race.
The latest podium appearance extends a Canadian record for a non-boycotted summer Olympics, previously set at 22 in 1996 and 2016. It also ties the country’s mark of seven gold medals at a non-boycotted summer Olympics originally achieved in Barcelona in 1992.
WATCH | Mitchell sprints to gold medal in Tokyo:
“People talk about visualization a lot in sports, and I don’t know if [I] did it on purpose, but I could see myself on the podium. I decided to go and execute it,” Mitchell said.
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Mitchell, 27, beat Ukraine’s Olena Starikova 2-0 in the best-of-three final in Tokyo’s Izu Velodrome. The sprint features cyclists going head-to-head in three-lap, 200-metre races.
Known to teammates as “Quadzilla” for her bulging leg muscles, Mitchell used her brute speed in different ways to overwhelm Starikova in each race.
In their first matchup, the Canadian led wire to wire, holding off her opponent for two laps before powering to victory by 0.061 seconds. In the second race, Mitchell started from behind before dropping into the sprint lane for the final lap and crossing the finish line 0.064 seconds ahead to win gold.
WATCH | Mitchell discusses achieving her Olympic dream:
The medal is Mitchell’s first in her Olympic debut, and Canada’s second-ever gold in the sport after Lori-Ann Muenzer’s sprint victory in 2004.
Earlier Sunday, Mitchell beat reigning world champion Emma Hinze by a score of 2-1 in the semifinals. Hong Kong’s Lee Wai-sze then took down Hinze to earn bronze.
“I think my harder match was probably in the semis with the German,” Mitchell said.
In the quarter-finals, Mitchell ousted fellow Canadian and Tokyo 2020 women’s keirin bronze medallist Lauriane Genest.
Mitchell said the two had never raced each other and joked that they’d save the first time for the Olympics. But they had hoped they’d be racing against each other for medals.
In the moments after her victory, Mitchell was adamant that everyone around her played a role.
“It was a team effort and I 100 per cent couldn’t have done this alone or without my teammates, my coach, the support from back home…. It’s a team sport. I’m telling you. It’s a team sport.”
A victory lap for Kelsey Mitchell feels right 🇨🇦🥇 <a href=”https://twitter.com/_kmmitchell?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@_kmmitchell</a><a href=”https://twitter.com/CyclingCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CyclingCanada</a> <a href=”https://t.co/5jCdeqJJly”>pic.twitter.com/5jCdeqJJly</a>
Mitchell’s Canadian teammate Allison Beveridge later placed ninth in the women’s omnium — the final track cycling event in Tokyo.
Beveridge, a 28-year-old from Calgary, previously won team pursuit bronze at the 2016 Olympics.
That was just before Mitchell began cycling, at 23 years old, after coming up as a soccer player. She was discovered in 2017 by RBC Training Ground, a program introduced for young athletes to help build Canada’s Olympic teams.
WATCH | Mitchell accepts gold medal:
But she took to the sport quickly, eventually winning sprint gold in the 2019 Pan Am Games and placing fourth in the event at the 2020 world championships. She also set the world record in the flying 200 metres at the 2019 Pan Am Championships.
Earlier at these Games, she placed fifth in the keirin.
It didn’t take her long to add the title of Olympic champion.
“My family and friends have just been cheering for me from afar,” Mitchell said. “They said get gold or don’t come home, and so… I’m coming home with the gold.”
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