Friday 3 February 2012

Hansen heading for Olympic success

Natasha Hansen is well-accustomed to meteoric climbs into the stratosphere: at 22 years old, she's the youngest air traffic controller in New Zealand - but the rapid ascent of her cycling career is so remarkable it probably took even her by surprise.

Like many female cyclists, Hansen began cycling as part of a fitness training program for another sport; having been selected for a netball team whilst she was still at school. Nature took its course and she fell in love with the bike, spending more and more time riding before deciding to concentrate on the sport when she finished the World Junior Keirin Championship in fifth place and then, in 2007, won the National Junior Sprint Championship. Then, two years later, she gave the sport up - partly because of her country's lack of a Women's Sprint Olympic Program and partly to concentrate on her air traffic control exams, a wise decision in this world where even top female cyclists are exceedingly unlikely to make a decent living wage even if they perform as well (or better) than their male counterparts.

Fortunately, she was tempted back and in 2010 she won the National Sprint Championship and took silver medals in the 500m and Team Sprints, all at Elite level - great news for her, even better news for women's cycling in New Zealand as it proved sufficient to persuade the National Federation that it was about time it allocated some funds to go towards putting a women's sprint team together for the 2016 Olympics. That's not enough for Hansen and her team mate Katie Schofield, though - they were eyeing the London Games, and if they can continue making the improvements they've shown over the last two years at this weekend's National Track Championships there's a very real chance they'll be there.

"I know that in six months we will make massive gains and I truly believe we have the potential to medal also. If we continue on the path we are going on, there's no reason why we can't," Hansen says. Afterburners on!

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