With Olympics postponed, cyclist Emma White ’19 continues pursuit

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Emma White ’19, an elite cyclist and Olympic hopeful, is dealing with the one-year postponement of the Tokyo games the same way she takes on any other challenge: by training harder.

She was a member of the four-woman American team that won the World Cup team pursuit in late February in Berlin, a performance that heralded the team’s promise for a gold medal in Tokyo. Then came the COVID-19 shutdown.

Emma White and teammates
From left, Lily Williams, Jennifer Valente, Emma White ’19 and Chloe Dygert at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships on Feb. 27, 2020 in Berlin, Germany, where the team won gold in the team pursuit.

Emma, who hails from Delanson, N.Y., is part of a Union family of athletes. Her brother, Curtis ’18, is a world-level cyclocross rider. Their father, Tom, is head coach of Union’s men’s and women’s crew teams.

Emma graduated last June as an interdepartmental major in computer science/science, medicine and technology. She recently answered some of our questions from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Q: After a spectacular season with a world championship title in Berlin, how does the postponement of the Olympics change your training and eventual racing?

A: No one was expecting the season to change so drastically after the World Championships in Berlin. We were so happy with where we were as a team, physically and mentally. We knew we were ready to tackle the summer Olympics six months later. For the last year, every decision I've made in life and every workout I've done has been with the Olympics in mind. The biggest challenge may be the mental one, knowing we were so close to our goal and now it being 16 months away with no racing in sight. Like so many things, racing is still an unknown between now and then, but hopefully we will have some answers soon! At the end of the day, every country and every sport is dealing with this change, so our goal now is just to handle it better than our competition.

Q: Despite the disappointment of the Olympic postponement, does the delay provide an unexpected opportunity to refine your training?

A: We are absolutely looking at positives that could come from this. Our team in particular has so much room to grow. Three of the seven people on our long team, including myself, have been racing on the track for less than two years. One of my teammates that won Gold at the World Championships just completed her first-ever track season. Another 12 months will make us even stronger, more cohesive, and more hungry for that gold medal.

Q: Is it possible to do social distancing in a sport that relies on drafting?

A: I’m currently living at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Most resident athletes have left, so there are only a select few of us here, including two of my teammates, Because we technically live together, the three of us have been training on the roads together. The velodrome, however, is closed. Right now, we are just riding our bikes and going back to the basics of really enjoying being outside without the added stress of specific workouts. So of course it is possible to train alone, but I feel very lucky that I am stuck here with teammates! They make this much easier.

Q: What creative ways are you and other cyclists finding to get in the work? Virtual rides with teammates and other friends?

A: We have been lucky here in Colorado Springs with the weather and have been able to ride outside. Many cyclists have gotten into virtual training, if they weren’t previously into it. With the hard Schenectady winter, I have been using Zwift, a virtual training program, for years. Now Zwift is getting even bigger, with races that offer prize money and even professional team contracts. It’s amazing to see the cycling community come together from their own homes.

Q: How are you passing the time in the few hours that you are not training? Any favorite family pastimes? Favorite shows or movies?

A: As mentioned, I'm lucky to spend this time with two of my teammates, so I'm not going completely crazy! I'm also taking this time to keep in touch with friends and family members with all of the amazing technology we have available to us. It’s not very often the world completely slows down around us, so it’s important to take advantage of it and appreciate all the little things.

Q: Other thoughts?

A: We are even more motivated now that we have a new date for the Olympics! This situation is completely unprecedented, and everyone is having to deal with it. I feel incredibly fortunate that my life isn't more affected by it, like so many others are. It’s not going to be an easy couple months for anyone, but we will get through it, and hopefully take with us some positives for the future.