Yukon’s Zach Bell will be recovering from a disappointing result at the London Olympic Games for some time to come, he said in an email to the News.
The Watson Lake native, who went into the Olympics as a medal hopeful, placed eighth in the men’s omnium track cycling event on Sunday.
“Being totally honest about it, I feel terrible,” said Bell. “This is not how I envisioned things going. I feel like I have let a lot of people down and that is hard to swallow. I am satisfied I gave everything I had on the day but it was nowhere near my best. I know most people following will say I should be proud of what I did and I am. I am very grateful for the support I received from all over, especially the Yukon, and I think everyone should be proud for sure.
“For my own personal reasons, though, this has been a hard thing for me to take and will be hard for quite some time.”
After the first three races on Saturday in the two-day, six-stage omnium event, Bell was in ninth – too deep a hole for him to climb out of on Sunday. But the 29-year-old definitely tried. Bell won the 15-kilometre scratch race, which moved him up to seventh with one race to go.
“This is my bread and butter event and because of my ranking on the overall at that time I had a little more space to operate than usual,” said Bell of the scratch race. “I may be down on form but I am still a world-class racer, and scratch racer in particular. If you give me anything in that race I am going to take it. I also knew I had to produce a kind of performance of hope for all the kids looking up to me and wanting something special. I knew I could win that race even on bad form. I wanted the Yukon to have something to cheer about and I wasn’t going to let anyone take my last chance to show the people in the Yukon that something special they were all waiting for.”
Bell opened the Games with a seventh in the 250-metre flying lap, 13th in the points race and 10th in the elimination race. On Sunday, Bell raced to eighth in the individual pursuit and, after the scratch race, ended with 10th in the one-kilometre time trial.
He hopes the one victory will be a source of inspiration for aspiring Yukon athletes.
“I am a kid from the Yukon. I won a race at the Olympics. It may have not been the whole pie I was going for, but I got a piece and it’s something we can all celebrate and share in. That first taste of pie is the one you remember. It stays with you. I hope that small victory has given everybody at least that first sweet bite of what is possible.”
A silver-medal performance by Bell at the 2012 UCI Track World Championships in April not only provided Canada’s track cycling team with a berth into the omnium event in London, it solidified Bell as a strong medal contender for the Olympics. As did podium visits in the two World Cup events he competed in during the season, capturing silver in the omnium in Cali, Colombia, in December and bronze in London in February. Those results put Bell in fourth at the end of the UCI World Cup tour, which he won in 2011.
Denmark’s Lasse Norman Hansen, who won gold in the omnium on Sunday, won bronze behind Bell at the world championships in April.
While preparing for the Games, Bell peaked too early during his training, he said.
“I had just lost the form,” said Bell. “I got to the best form I have had in my life about 10 days out and then it just started to fade. My timed events illustrated that clearly. I could have saved some points in the points race if I had just been a bit sharper on the wheels of other riders but I don’t think it would have made the difference overall.”
With his wife, Rebecca, seven months pregnant, Bell’s future in competitive cycling is uncertain. But Bell, who placed seventh in the points race and 12th in the men’s Madison event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, did not outright dismiss the idea of a run at a third Olympics.
“That is a family decision and I am sorry I don’t have answers to any of these questions,” said Bell. “I will say that going on to 2016 I will need someone to back me and my family the whole way. I have had great support from Sport Yukon, Cycling B.C., (my road cycling team) SpiderTech and Cycling Canada. Those are all pieces that have come together to help me get to here, but it is not enough yet to be sustainable over the long term.
“This push has put my family, and wife in particular, through a lot of hardships and loneliness. We were willing to go through it once to try and get the big prize but I would need to have a situation where I can look after them better before I could feel OK with asking them to go through it all again.
“It’s not off the radar, I just need to have the right pieces come together. I intend to continue racing, with more of a focus on the road in the near future and intend to take it one step at a time. I still love track racing and have still been seeing gains. That’s how I got this far and if I look any further than that at this moment it is pretty overwhelming. I am certainly willing to entertain the prospect of trying one more time if the situation is right.”
Had Bell won a medal, he would have become the first Yukon-born athlete to do so at the Olympic Games.
It is clear Bell’s Yukon roots run deep. While hoping to inspiring athletes in the Yukon, it is obvious the Yukon helped inspire him.
“I would like to thank all the people of the Yukon for showing their support and getting behind me. I put out the letter (to Yukon media last week) to get people involved and in that I feel I was a success. My life is something that is so special because of where it started. When I meet new people they know I am from the Yukon before they know I am an Olympian. That’s the pride I carried with me this week. I hope everyone else had some of that too.”
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com