The Olympics were never something to which Chloe Dygert paid much attention, not when there were pick-up basketball games and a million other things on her mind while growing up near Indianapolis.
Not even four years ago, when the London Games captured the world’s imagination.
Dygert is a relative newcomer to bike racing. Not all that long ago, she was still focused on hoops and other more mainstream American sports, and the idea that she might someday compete for her country on two wheels amounted to – well, a preposterous proposition.
“Honestly, it was never really something I watched,” she said. “I was always playing outside or doing something. I never watched TV. I knew about the Olympics but it never really interested me.”
It has her undivided attention these days.
The 19-year-old Dygert is one of the sport’s bright young stars, sweeping the junior road race and time trial at last fall’s world championships. That showing piqued the interest of USA Cycling, and suddenly she was tapped to join its powerhouse women’s pursuit squad for the Rio Games.
After winning the world title in record time, they’re now the heavy favorites for Olympic gold.
“I haven’t had a lot of down time,” Dygert said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
She has spent most of that splitting time between her trade team, Twenty16-Ridebiker, and her Olympic pursuits. But with the Rio Games soon approaching, her attention has shifted entirely to the track.
“She’s an absolutely incredible athlete,” said Sarah Hammer, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and the elder stateswoman of the five-member pursuit squad. “I have really never seen anyone like her, how talented she is. I don’t even think she realizes how talented she is.”
Her father and brother introduced Dygert to cycling, but she didn’t devote herself to it until injuries began to mount on the basketball court. Her breakthrough came in 2013, when she began to land on the podium in elite events, but it was followed by a major setback: She was persuaded to return to the hardwood in high school and wound up tearing her ACL, derailing her for an entire cycling season.
It was her final foray into hoops.
Dygert recovered in time to race a few events late in 2014, and that set her up for a big 2015. She won her two junior world titles in Virginia, then raced a couple of mountain bike events for Marian University, her college squad. Then came the invitation from USA Cycling.
The women’s pursuit team had won silver four years ago in London. It wanted gold in Rio.
Cycling officials thought Dygert would be perfect to round out a squad anchored by Hammer that also includes workhorses Kelly Catlin, Jennifer Valente and Ruth Winder. And they were right, too, as they roared to the world record in March in their first major event.
“Chloe loves to go hard. Loves to smash it,” Hammer said. “But the cool thing is she has zero percent of an ego, and that’s so refreshing. She can turn it off as soon as the effort is over.”
Hammer is hardly Dygert’s only mentor. There is her fiance, Logan Owen, an up-and-coming rider in his own right. There are the coaches at USA Cycling, on the road and the track. And there are those involved in her trade team, including two-time Olympic time trial gold medalist Kristin Armstrong.
“Chloe is what you’d call a natural talent,” Armstrong said. “She hasn’t surprised our team but she has surprised the world, and this is just the beginning for her.”
Dygert’s heart lies on the road, and one day she would love to represent the U.S. at an Olympics in that discipline. The speed, tactics and challenge of a longer, unpredictable and more glamorous race suits her style, rather than the short, all-out bursts of track cycling.
But while she never watched the Summer Games growing up, Dygert now appreciates the magnitude of the event and her opportunity to compete for a medal at such a young age – even if it is on the track.
“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” she said. “But I do enjoy the track, so it’s like, when the Olympics come around if I have the opportunity to do the track or time trial, I’m definitely open to anything.”
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