Laura Brown can walk across an entire gym floor on her hands.
But more importantly right now the Vancouver athlete can ride a track bicycle very quickly, with purpose and intent, and at the Olympic level.
A former gymnast, Brown helped an intrepid team of Canadian cyclists win a gold medal in the women’s team pursuit at one of the final Olympic qualifying events, the Pan American Championships, in Mar Del Plata, Argentina on Tuesday.
The Canadian squad included Brown, Stephanie Roorda, of Vancouver and a new face, young freckly Allison Beveridge of Calgary, fresh out of the junior ranks, which she dominated at a world level.
Going into the event, the Canadian women’s pursuit team ranked in seventh place in the race to earn an Olympic berth, helped up the ladder by a silver medal performance at an important test event at the London Olympic velodrome three weeks ago. Interestingly enough, the Canadian team in London had three completely different riders, headed by omnium world champion Tara Whitten of Edmonton and two others who had little international experience between the two of them.
The Whitten team sparkled in London, finishing second only to the British team that set a world record.
Brown and Roorda are already seasoned veterans on the Canadian track cycling team, having been part of the team that won gold at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico last October in swash-buckling manner.
Cycling was far from Brown’s mind when she signed up for gymnastics at the age of three. She continued twisting, and flipping until an injury stopped her at age 14. Her coach had seen her ride a stationary bike at a spin class, and that was enough for her to suggest Brown take up cycling.
Brown seems born for it. And hungry for the Olympics. She knew she wanted to represent Canada when she saw the lithesome Lilia Podkopayeva at the 1996 Games in Atlanta perform a gymnastics move in a floor routine that had been formidable even for the men. Brown was nine years old at the time, and wanted to do the same for Canada.
She’s not wasting time. One of her favourite sports memories is her first World Cup attempt, when she won a gold medal. “It was a special moment looking up at the scoreboard after crossing the line and reading: “Canada GOLD,” she said.
“The first time you get to throw your arms in the air after a win while wearing the maple leaf on your back, I would like to think of that moment as the one that jump-started my cycling career,” she said.
She’s had some good moments since. Brown flew to Cali, Colombia last fall hoping for more, but she and a Canadian team finished only seventh. But they accomplished one thing. They took a risk. “We did not go out and do a safe, pretty ride to come in seventh, we tried to do something spectacular and well, we blew up spectacularly,” she said.
When Brown, Roorda and Jasmine Glaesser made up the women’s pursuit team at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, it was the first major Games for all of them. Brown had already won a bronze medal in the individual time trial. They were the medal favourites in the team pursuit, and broke a Canadian record en route to the final against the Cubans, who had a slower qualifying time. But they could take no chances. They changed their racing plan slightly, braved temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius in the velodrome and shaved 36 seconds off their qualifying time to win.
Their clocking of 3:21.4 was only 1.8 seconds off the world record. They earned a standing ovation.
After a number of rain delays on Tuesday, Brown and company flew over the outdoor, concrete track, and earned the maximum number of Olympic qualifying points in Argentina.
The very final Olympic qualifying event on the calendar is the world track cycling championships next month in Melbourne, Australia. But the Canadian team is now in a good position to qualify for London.
The Melbourne event will be their final competition before the Olympics.