Villumsen determined to do Silver Fern proud
DEPUTY SPORTS EDITOR
She fell for New Zealand in a big way during a student exchange a decade ago, now Linda Villumsen is intent on returning the love by gifting some precious Olympic metal in London.
Villumsen cycled for Denmark in Beijing four years ago, finishing fifth in the Olympic women's road race but her heartstrings were being tugged by the silver fern.
In December 2009, she became a New Zealand citizen and stamped her mark as one of the world's premier individual time triallists on the road. Three world championship podiums (bronze in 2009 and 2010, silver in 2011), and time trial victories in Italy and Spain in recent months saw the 27-year-old labelled New Zealand's leading cycling medal hope by BikeNZ's high performance director, Mark Elliott.
Born in Herning, Denmark, Villumsen's English is still improving but her commitment to the cause can't be faulted since her first visit in her final year of school.
"Linda was pretty much adopted by a family in Auckland. She felt really at home with the New Zealand culture and scene and visited regularly in the years after that," Elliott said.
Villumsen was a certainty for Olympic selection, and reinforced her credentials in June with a time trial victory against Olympic and world champions on the way to overall honours in the Giro de Trentino in Italy. Newly aligned with the Australian-owned Orica GreenEdge team, she added a time trial stage victory in Emakumeen Euskal Bira in Spain.
Her dominant form still didn't dull the emotion when confirmed alongside Greg Henderson and Jack Bauer in the road team.
"Olympics is like a dream and the second one is unbelievable. It was maybe not an accident that I went the first time but at least this time I feel more ready, and more happy and lots more proud," she said.
Villumsen's second Olympics will begin with the 140km road race in central London on Sunday, before the big medal push in the 29km time trial three days later.
New Zealand doubled their all-time Olympic cycling medal haul in Beijing when Hayden Roulston won silver in the individual pursuit and led the pursuit team to bronze. Gary Anderson (bronze in 1992) and Sarah Ulmer (gold in 2004) were the only previous podiums.
Confidently, Elliott says four medals is realistic from the 22-strong team spanning track, road, BMX and mountainbike in London.
That target was inked in May, 2008, even before Beijing, as BikeNZ's high performance programme cranked into gear. This year they were second only to rowing, raking in nearly $4.3 million in funding from High Performance Sport NZ.
In 2008, they initially targeted men's and women's endurance. Now there are eight events in which Kiwi cyclists are ranked top-six in the world, which is seen as medal territory. A return on the hefty investment is required.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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