Real Life

NZ cyclist Nastasha Hansen's second chance for gold

Sprint cyclist Natasha Hansen (26) is on the right track for Rio after a heartbreaking loss.

"As a youngster growing up in Christchurch, netball was my main sport. Yet I needed something to keep me fit in winter, so when a friend suggested I try track cycling I went along to the Denton Park Velodrome to give it a go.

In my first season I won a national title and, when I was later named in the team for the Junior World Championships, I quit netball to focus on track cycling because I knew the sport would present international opportunities for me.

It’s not a path I’ve regretted because cycling has taken me all around the world and I am about to compete at my second Olympics.

In my early days of track cycling, I was very raw and I really didn’t know how to race properly. At that Junior World Championships, I finished fifth and seventh. I was very disappointed, but on the back of this I was offered a scholarship to train at the World Cycling Centre in Switzerland. I was still a schoolgirl at the time, but it gave me valuable experience of how to train at a high level.

In 2012 I was selected to compete at the London Olympics, which was a great moment. However, my preparation had been disrupted after the tragic death of one of my best friends and mentors, Nicola Stock, who passed away from cancer in the countdown to the Games.

Nicola lived with me and she played an instrumental role in enabling me to win selection.

Competing at my first Olympics, aged just 22, I found the experience quite overwhelming. I finished 11th in the keirin and 12th in the sprint, but I was still struggling to come to terms with Nicola’s death.

After the Games, I took some time out from the sport to deal with the grief. At the time it was hard to know whether I was unhappy with cycling or whether it was the circumstances.

I took up a role as an air traffic controller in Invercargill. This gave me routine and structure, and stopped me from feeling sorry for myself. This was important, but it was watching my boyfriend, Ben Stewart, who is also a sprint cyclist, train at the track which sparked the desire to hop on the bike again.

That was the moment I realised I wanted to rejoin the programme. I missed excelling at something and pushing my body to the limit. It also gave me the opportunity to share something with Ben.

It has been a tough road back. At the end of 2014 I slipped two discs in my back and faced three months on the sidelines. Competing at the 2015 Nationals shortly after the injury was hard. I finished further back than I knew I was capable of and missed out on the 2015 World Championships.

It made me even more determined to get back on track. I moved from Invercargill to train in Cambridge and I haven’t regretted the move. We train on the track every afternoon, as well as in the gym three times a week to build strength and bulk. We also ride on the road at least twice a week.

I love being able to see how fast and strong I can develop as a rider. It is one of the best programmes in the world and we are striving to be the best each day.

Assisting Natasha in her Olympic bid is her partner Ben, who is also a sprint cyclist.
Assisting Natasha in her Olympic bid is her partner Ben, who is also a sprint cyclist.

I am fortunate to do something I love and am passionate about. The sport is government funded so I am here pursuing my goals because of their support and the people of New Zealand’s backing – I never take that for granted. I am lucky to lead the lifestyle that I do.

I have recently been called up to represent New Zealand at my second Olympics, which was special. I finished fifth in the sprint at the World Championships in London earlier this year and, hopefully, I can keep on improving in Rio.

Travelling at speed on a bike is so much fun. When I am putting in a flying 200m sprint effort around the velodrome and it’s hard to even hold down the bike, it is thrilling and a real rush. Then when I see the results of the hard work, it makes it that much more rewarding to climb on the bike every day."

Cycling champs Eddie Dawkins, Sam Webster, Natasha and Ethan Mitchell are proud to represent NZ in Rio.
Cycling champs Eddie Dawkins, Sam Webster, Natasha and Ethan Mitchell are proud to represent NZ in Rio.

Three things you didn't know about Natasha
Another sport I love is... Netball. I used to play for the Canterbury Flames development squad.
A crazy thing I’ve done is... Appear in a charity boxing fight, where I fought netballer Keshia Grant.
A trait that runs in my family is... Flying. My brother, Matthew, is training with the Royal New Zealand Air Force to become an instructor.

As told to Steve Landells

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