One-month-old Dara Wilson was kind enough to wait until the end of the interview to finish her snooze and start crying.
She gave her mom, Catharine Pendrel, time to answer several questions, including one of particular interest to those across the Canadian cross-country mountain biking landscape — is the chase still on for a fourth appearance at the Olympic Summer Games?
Answer: It’s go time.
“I feel like it’s been best-case scenario,” said 40-year-old Pendrel, who was spotted by KTW last week powering up Summit Drive on her bike. “I’m definitely behind where I would be had I not been pregnant and had a baby, but I’m really happy with the form I was able to maintain through pregnancy and definitely my recovery afterward. I feel quite well-positioned.”
Longtime Kamloops residents Pendrel and husband Keith Wilson welcomed Dara to the world on Jan. 26.
“Everything is actually really good,” Pendrel said. “We’ve found a nice balance. She is currently sleeping, so that’s good. My recovery and return to training is doing well and she is doing well.”
(She was currently sleeping).
The postponed 2020 Olympic Summer Games are scheduled to run this year in Tokyo, from July 23 to Aug. 8.
That leaves about six months for Pendrel to recover and reach world-class form.
Pendrel and Haley Smith occupy the two spots expected to be available for female Canadian cross-country riders at the Games. They are the only two women who have satisfied Cycling Canada criteria for cracking the Olympic squad, but two opportunities remain for Canadian riders to unseat the current placeholders.
The first two events of the World Cup season in May, in Germany and the Czech Republic, will double as the final Olympic qualifiers if the races can take place amid the pandemic.
Pendrel’s fifth-place finish at a World Cup event in 2019 is her ticket to Tokyo. If another Canadian rider can finish fourth or better at either of the upcoming World Cup events, then Pendrel is likely to lose her spot.
On the flip side, the Kamloops rider could improve her Olympic qualification chances by finishing fourth or better at either World Cup event in May, but that is an unlikely scenario.
“I’m not anticipating I’m going to be a top-five rider in May,” said Pendrel, an Olympic bronze medallist, two-time world champion and three-time World Cup series champion. “That might be unrealistic. I’m still going to be behind at those ones, but I definitely feel confident that by June and July, later in the season, I’ll have really good form.”
In the event the World Cup races in May are cancelled, criteria satisfiers Pendrel and Smith seem likely to crack the Olympic team, but Cycling Canada has not yet confirmed that to be the case.
Pendrel is preparing as if the World Cup races and Olympics will be green-lighted and is seeing signs that suggest both will go ahead.
“They’ve [the International Olympic Committee] just released a pretty comprehensive playbook of how it will look for athletes when they go there [to Tokyo],” Pendrel said. “Like everyone, we are waiting to see what the world situation is, but based on what they were able to do last fall and over the winter with bike racing, they’ve been able to host events safely and securely. I’d imagine those [World Cup races] will go ahead.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee summarized the IOC playbook and added its own protocol in an email to Team Canada members on Feb. 25.
Pendrel is finding inspiration in motherhood and its relation to her quest for Tokyo.
“For a lot of women, just to see an athlete who has gone through training while they’re pregnant and then getting back into being a high-level athlete afterward is a nice example of, you know, life definitely changes when you have a baby, but you can still retain a lot of those elements that are important to you, in terms of your active lifestyle.”
Pressure remains, but it feels a little bit different this time around.
“I’ve been at this high-performance, high-result expectation for so long, and those things are still there, but there is also that atmosphere of, ‘Just do your best,’ and I’ll be happy with my progress,” Pendrel said.
“And that’s often when athletes do perform their best.”