Hammer wins individual pursuit in Copenhagen
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hammer wins individual pursuit in Copenhagen

by Neil Browne at 7:05 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Track, Race Reports and Results, World Championships

Today was the first day of the UCI track world championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, where American Sarah Hammer rode to her first rainbow stripes of the competition by beating Britain's Wendy Houvenaghel in the 3000 meter individual pursuit.

It has been a roller coaster ride for Hammer to finally make it to this point. In her lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Hammer suffered a back injury and and only managed fifth in the individual pursuit, an event for which she was a favorite. She then broke her collarbone in a crash during the points race, missing any chance for a medal.

In addition to her lackluster results in the Olympics, she was embroiled in the infamous mask-gate incident when she and several members of the cycling track team landed at the Beijing airport wearing surgical masks as protection against the smog. The move was seen as an insult to the Chinese, and Hammer said she received hate mail and was forced to publicly apologize. She said the ordeal adversely affected her performance. At the conclusion of the Games she wasn't sure if she'd return to the sport and ended up sitting out the 2009 season.

However last year when her husband and coach, Andy Sparks, took the position of track coach at the UCI center in Aigle, Switzerland, she found the motivation she needed.

"I've been working really hard for the past eight months, and I wanted it," she told AFP. "Moving to Switzerland has made a huge difference to my training, not just because of the facilities but because I'm getting to train with a lot of younger athletes and that has given me a whole new perspective. It has made me rise (to the occasion) on every single training day."

Hammer initially trailed Wendy Houvenaghel by a fraction of a second in the first three laps, however she steadily gained ground and overtook the British rider. At three laps Houvenaghel was over a second behind, and the gap increased to two seconds at the 2000 meter mark. When the twelve lap race was completed Hammer had put nearly four seconds into the 35-year old Houvenaghel with a winning time of 3 minutes and 28.601 seconds.

After adding a third world pursuit title to her collection, Hammer reflects on those turbulent years. "After the rollercoaster of 2008 and 2009, instead of looking at the Olympics as the be-all-and-end-all, I'm taking it one race at a time. This world title is so special to me."

Hammer's next big goal is a gold medal at the 2012 London Games and she considers these world championships an important step toward making that a reality.

2010 World Championship Women's Individual pursuit final results (3000m):
Gold: Sarah Hammer (USA) 3min 28.601sec
Silver: Wendy Houvenaghel (GBR) 3:32.496
Bronze: Vilija Sereikaite (LTU) 3:32.085


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