NEWS
08/11/2016 15:32 EDT | Updated 08/12/2017 01:12 EDT

Simmerling sets Canadian record as team pursuit foursome qualifies fourth in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO — The television camera just centimetres from her nose didn't phase Georgia Simmerling.

The 27-year-old was seconds away from her Olympic track cycling debut, but when it really came down to it, she had already been here before.

Simmerling made history Thursday by becoming the first Canadian athlete to compete in three different sports at three separate Olympics when she rode as part of the foursome that clocked the fourth-fastest time to advance from the women's team pursuit qualifying heats.

The energetic West Vancouver, B.C., product raced for Canada in alpine skiing at the Vancouver Games six years ago before taking up ski cross ahead of Sochi in 2014, experiences she said have prepared her for a stage that is both different and the same.

"I'm used to the media, the crowd," said Simmerling. "That has really helped me come into this sport and excel. I draw off the crowd as I do from my other sports. That mental experience with high-pressure situations has been huge."

Her path to Rio started when she broke her wrist at the 2015 ski world championships and decided it was time to focus on making the Summer Olympics.

Simmerling announced herself to track cycling community at a World Cup race in January, helping Canada to a victory in the team pursuit.

"She's a great athlete," said coach Craig Griffin. "It's a great story, her coming over from skiing. Unfortunately we're probably going to have to give her back.

"She's a quick learner. She picks up things really well. We're really fortunate to have her."

Simmerling, Calgary's Allison Beveridge and the Vancouver duo of Jasmin Glaesser and Laura Brown completed Thursday's 4,000-metre event where teams race in tandem with a time of four minutes 19.599 seconds.

Britain set a new world record of 4:13.260 to top the field, besting Australia's time at the 2015 worlds by 0.423 seconds.

The United States was second in 4:14.286 at the Rio Olympic Velodrome, while the Aussies clocked in at 4:19.059.

Canada now faces Britain and the U.S. meets Australia in Saturday morning's first round. The winners of those races will battle for gold, while the two teams with the fastest times of the six remaining countries go head to head for third.

Simmerling and her teammates came to Brazil with high hopes after Canada grabbed bronze in London four years ago and a podium spot at the last four world championships. While athletes have been moved in and out of the lineup like chess pieces since then — Glaesser is the only remaining competitor from 2012 to suit up in Rio — the results have stayed fairly consistent.

"We definitely didn't ride to our potential," Simmerling said of Thursday's heat. "We're going to regroup, we have a day to rest and I know we can put it on the line in the next two rounds."

One of the changes that could come Saturday is the insertion of Montreal's Kirsti Lay — who won silver at the worlds in March with Simmerling, Glaesser and Beveridge — back with the group in place of Brown.

"I'm pretty happy with how the girls rode," said Gibson, who added Canada had just five training session on the track before racing. "There were a couple of technical errors out there, some little pacing errors and our distribution of work wasn't quite right."

Although new to the sport, Simmerling isn't likely to allow anyone to get flustered at the prospect of facing a British team that bettered Canada by more than six seconds on Thursday, showing her caginess with the media by initially shrugging off a question about her impressive three-sports-at-three-Olympics accomplishment. 

"To be honest I'm kind of sick of hearing that," she said with a laugh. "I'm focused on my team and what we can accomplish here. I guess it's a cool stat, but it really has no impact on me or my performance."

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