By Joanne C Gerstner | April 10, 2014, 1 p.m. (ET)
Greta Neimanas
A competitor at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games, Greta Neimanas did not medal despite success at world championships.

Greta Neimanas
Greta Neimanas relocated to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train for the 2016 Paralympic Games.

Greta Neimanas sorted through her likes and dislikes, and the end game became very clear: She’s had an acclaimed para-cycling career, but she’s far from satisfied.

She has been part of the U.S. Paralympic Team for two consecutive Games, but Neimanas left Beijing and London without a medal. Having 13 world championships medals and 10 U.S. titles are nice things, but it’s not enough.

So everything she does, down to where she lives and trains, is with the intent of conquering the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games.

“I am not going to leave Rio without a medal, that is not an option,” Neimanas, 26, said. “I am all in for Rio, and I am going to make it happen. I don’t want to come home empty-handed again. I don’t just want to be training. I want to be the best para-cyclist I can be, and I think having that mentality will help my goals toward Rio.

“I don’t want to be good. I want to be the best.”

Her renewed focus has meant moving back to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to live and train, and making the days between now and Rio count in every way.

But there is a lot of time between 2014 and the 2016 Games, meaning competitions such as the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, from April 10-13 in Aguascalientes, Mexico, will be Neimanas’ way of testing herself along the way.

She will be competing in the pursuit, 500-meter and scratch races over the three days. Her focus has been on the pursuit lately, but she says her experience from track and road cycling will come into play with the other events.

The scratch race, which is making its debut as a full-fledged medal event, has the riders start together en masse, with the winner being the first to cross the finish line.

Neimanas won the scratch event at the UCI world championships in 2012, when it was being evaluated as a demonstration event.

“I think it’s going to be fun to have the scratch be for real this time; I enjoyed it when I was a demonstration event a lot,” Neimanas said. “I think my road racing skills are going to transfer well, because it’s basically like an über-condensed road race — minus the lollygagging. You have to be fit and mentally prepared. You have to race 10K, hit the full gas from the start, and then you focus more on the tactics.

“It’s actually a lot of fun to have people racing next to you, around you; you really have to look out for yourself in the scratch.”

Neimanas, who has been competing in the world championships since 2006, has seen the para-cycling world dramatically expand. Gone are the days of one or two favorites in each race. Today’s para-cycling fields are deep, and increasingly global, meaning veterans such as Neimanas have to work harder to stay on top.

“We have racers, like me, on able-bodied teams here and in Europe, and that’s really elevated the game,” Neimanas said, referencing her U.S.-based racing team, Twenty16. “You come to a race now, and there are 10, 15 that could just as easily win the race as others. It’s been really cool to see the evolution and be part of it. The sport is changing, actually, rather quickly, and it’s forcing us current athletes to try to get better, faster, stronger and smarter out there.”

Training, racing and trying to push herself into a new level of competitive fitness predicated Neimanas’ move back to Colorado Springs this past January. She had lived there from 2007 through 2011 but moved away for a change of pace. She wanted to try living on her own and assert her own level of independence.

What she discovered during the time away from Colorado Springs was two-fold: She could successfully live on her own, but it was nicer having the resources of the OTC to support her cycling.

“It just made sense to come back,” Neimanas said. “What I found living on my own was, I’d come back from a hard day of training, and then I needed to find a way to make myself a tasty and nutritionally-sound meal. Or laundry. Or recovery. Now I come back from training, I eat something that’s made for me, I can get my sports recovery massage, ice and hot baths. It just takes all the stress and worry out of my life.

“I can just focus on my sport, being the best athlete I can.”

Neimanas admits life in Colorado Springs can get a bit entertaining at times. There are public tours of the training center, meaning tourists can get a peek at athletes such as Neimanas doing their training routines.

“It is a little bit like living in a fishbowl, when some kid is tapping on the glass, like in the zoo, when you are lifting,” Neimanas said, laughing. “But it’s fine. I have my goals set, my mentality is clear. I am working hard to be the best in everything I do.”

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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