When it came to identifying potential track cyclists for “The Next Olympic Hopeful,” the apples didn’t fall from the tree, but they definitely came from a different orchard.
Athletes from speedskating, swimming and other cycling disciplines competed for invitations to a USA Cycling national team training camp on the documentary, which airs for a second time Aug. 29 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network. But in the end it was Keely Kortman, 24, and Collin Hudson, 20, two successful BMX racers, who earned the selections.
“Track cycling has always been in the back of my mind,” Hudson admitted.
Hudson has trained under Jamie Staff, USA Cycling’s BMX director, who also began overseeing the track sprint program this year. A former BMX racer in Great Britain, Staff made the switch to track, won three world championships and helped the Brits win a gold medal in team sprint at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.
Staff suggested both Hudson and Kortman should apply for “The Next Olympic Hopeful.”
While some might think Hudson and Kortman had an obvious advantage because they were already competing on a bike, track cycling is a different animal altogether, they noted. Track bikes have no brakes, are a single fixed gear and are direct drive, meaning that you can’t just stop pedaling. If you do, the bike stops alarmingly fast, making for hairy moments.
Jim Miller, vice president of high performance for USA Cycling, said Hudson and Kortman distinguished themselves during the competition.
“Collin is a very talented athlete and someone that our high performance team believes has the ability to make our next Olympic team; either racing on the track or BMX,” Miller said.
“Keely is a young athlete and possesses the raw tools to be a world-class athlete,” he added. “With the right focus and coaching, Keely has the ability to reach the pinnacle of the sport.”
Kortman, who grew up in Michigan but now lives in California, found the whole experience larger than life.
“I was impressed with how big of a deal it was,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting all of the cameras to be there all the time. I found that everyone was really nice. A lot of them were road cyclists. It was pretty much the first time for all of us on the track.”
Hudson, Colorado born-and-bred, agreed.
“This was my first time on a velodrome, and it was a little weird,” he said. “I grew up in BMX, where you have brakes and can free wheel — you can stop pedaling and still be moving. The first time I did a hard effort on the track bike, I almost stopped pedaling and it kicked me up pretty good. I almost crashed!”
Track cycling mentor Sarah Hammer, a four-time Olympic medalist, admitted that she had some reservations about sending neophytes with “fixies” onto the velodrome for efforts.
“There were no crashes, and that was something I was afraid about, that someone was going to stop pedaling and get launched over the handlebars,” she said.
Hammer said the idea was to find cyclists with the ability to hold onto peak power for a period of time in order to fit them into the team sprint, an event where two women or three men sprint one behind the other, with the lead rider pulling up after their lead lap finishes, making way for the next on the team, and so on.
“I’ve ridden a track bike before,” Kortman said, “but never on a velodrome. This was my first time on a velodrome, and I was actually thinking it was way scarier than it was. It was really fun.”
While hopefuls for the other sports — bobsled, skeleton and rugby — ran through a variety of sprints, jumps, shot put tosses and more, the track cycling candidates broke off into their own training group and did an enormous amount of testing on stationary Wattbikes.
“It made sense for us to break off because nine out of 10 of those other tests were completely irrelevant for cycling,” Hudson said. “You can be the strongest or fastest guy in the world, but if you can’t pedal a bike, it doesn’t matter.
The toughest sessions — other than actually riding the velodrome — involved Wingate testing, a 30-second test at full threshold levels of pedaling to test anaerobic capacity and power.
“That was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Hudson said.
Kortman and Hudson were aware of each other from BMX racing, but were impressed with how well the group supported and cheered for each other.
“Everyone seemed excited to try something new,” Kortman said.
Hudson, who is majoring in business marketing at Colorado Mesa University, is a junior national BMX champion with junior world championship wins as well as a few college national titles. He rides mountain bikes for fun.
Kortman turned pro in BMX when she was just 16.
And now both she and Hudson will train with the track cycling national team.