A Vermonter is heading back to the Olympics to compete in the U.S. mountain bike discipline. Lea Davison of Jericho will be in Rio for this year's games.
She showed off her cycling skills in the London Games of 2012, finishing 11th in the women's cross-country mountain bike event. She recently won a silver medal in the World Championships.
Growing up in Jericho, Davison ran on her high school cross country team and did downhill ski racing at Smugglers' Notch. A friend suggested she join the high school mountain bike club.
"He let me borrow a bike, and it was like love at first sight," Davison says. "I felt like it combined both the endurance and fitness from cross country running as well as the downhill finesse descending skills from downhill ski racing."
In the 2012 London Olympics, Davison finished 11th. Her goals are different this time around.
"Having one Olympic experience under my belt really makes a difference because it's a huge joyful shock when you get there," she laughed. "I've had two World Championship medals, so that gives me a little bit more confidence going into Rio."
She's also coming off two recent hip surgeries to repair torn cartilage.
"This is just one event. There's not qualifying, no preliminary events. We're on a 5-kilometer track, it varies depending on the location. The conditions can vary we race rain or shine. It's a mass start. Everyone lines up, the gun goes off, everyone starts at the time and the first woman to cross the finish line wins," Davison said.
Thirty-two women will compete in the Olympic race. Start position is determined by world ranking, and that's important, because the trail bottlenecks, and Davison said it's a disadvantage to be stuck behind a group of women. Davison is ranked 16th, so she'll start in the second row of eight women.
While some athletes, most notably big-name golf professionals, have said they're not going to compete in Rio due to health concerns related to the Zika virus, Davison said she never had a second thought about going to Rio.
"It's the Olympics. You've worked a lifetime for opportunities like this, so I never even considered not going. It's definitely a threat and there are scary things out there, but I wasn't going to let it get in between me and my dreams." She said many of her family and friends are making the trip to Rio to support her.
Davison said her family is quite competitive. Her sister Sabra trains with her. The two have also started a non-profit organization called Little Bellas, which gives girls positive role models and helps train girls in mountain biking as an empowering experience.
"We've grown to become a national organization. We have 23 different programs in nine different states," Davison says. "We have 530 girls signed up this season. We've influenced over 2,000 girls over the lifespan of the program."
But right now, Davison's sights are set on Rio.
"I think I'm in the best case scenario having come off winning a silver medal at the World Championship," she said. "So that was a dream come true, and I know I can be up there in the top three when it matters. Now that I've won that silver medal and checked that off the list, everything is icing on the cake. It sort of relieves the pressure a little bit."