Canadian Olympic champion cyclist Kelsey Mitchell 'fired up' for Commonwealth Games debut

·8 min read
Kelsey Mitchell, seen during the UCI Track Nations Cup in May, is set to make her Commonwealth Games debut on Friday while headlining an exciting Canadian cycling team filled with fellow newcomers. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Kelsey Mitchell, seen during the UCI Track Nations Cup in May, is set to make her Commonwealth Games debut on Friday while headlining an exciting Canadian cycling team filled with fellow newcomers. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Canadian Olympic champion Kelsey Mitchell is hungry for more.

The track cyclist from Sherwood Park, Alta., won gold in her Olympic debut last summer in Tokyo, and she makes her Commonwealth Games debut on Friday while headlining an exciting 18-member Canadian cycling team poised for success in England.

For Mitchell, competing at the Commonwealth Games is both a full circle moment and another milestone on her meteoric rise that began just four years ago.

"I'm really excited. I first started track cycling when the Commonwealth Games in 2018 was going on. I remember watching it and being like, 'That would be so cool to go and represent Canada.' And now I get to do it," Mitchell told CBC Sports.

Mitchell's rapid rise to the top culminated in Olympic gold — something most athletes spend their entire careers trying to accomplish. Despite already achieving so much so quickly, she says her motivation is as strong as ever as she turns the page to a new chapter in her career.

"The hunger is still there. I want to get better every single day, and I now want to stay on top," Mitchell said. "I've already been beaten, so it's anyone's game. Anyone can be a champion and Olympic champion, but you've got to keep going, you've got to keep pushing. I don't plan to stop anytime soon"

WATCH l Mitchell captures sprint silver at UCI Track Nations Cup:

Mitchell is one of eight Olympian cyclists representing Canada in England. While the Games are being hosted in Birmingham, the track cycling events are taking place at Lee Valley VeloPark in London — a venue where Mitchell won silver last December at the final UCI Track Cycling Champions League event of the season.

"The atmosphere is just absolutely incredible, and so to go there again and have the support of Cycling Canada and Team Canada, to be able to compete at the Commonwealth Games, I'm fired up and ready to go," Mitchell said.

While Mitchell said her first Olympic experience was memorable beyond words, the Commonwealth Games adds a new element with it being her first time competing on a big international stage in front of a full crowd

"I'm excited to go and do a Games with the full crowd, it's been a while. Tokyo was an amazing experience, but I think having the stands packed will be something else. And I know London has a lot of cycling fans, so I think it'll be just amazing event all around," Mitchell said.

New wave of talent

Along with Mitchell's rise, the cycling team has seen a lot of other major changes since the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia.

Lauriane Genest and Ariane Bonhomme are Canada's only returning track cyclists from the 2018 edition, while fellow Olympians Michael Foley and Derek Gee are the only returning road cyclists.

"Four years ago, at the Gold Coast Games, Lauriane Genest was a surprise newcomer who finished fourth in the sprint tournament; Kelsey Mitchell wasn't even part of our team. Now they are both Olympic medallists and riders to watch," said Cycling Canada's high-performance director Kris Westwood.

The cycling events at the Commonwealth Games begin on the track in London, with 16 gold medals up for grabs across eight women's events and eight men's events.

Mitchell leads a strong Canadian sprint team that includes Genest, who captured keirin bronze in Tokyo, and exciting newcomer Sarah Orban.

WATCH l Mitchell, Genest, Orban capture team sprint bronze at UCI Track Nations Cup:

Olympian Nick Wammes will be competing on the men's side along with Tyler Rorke and Ryan Dodyk — all making their Commonwealth Games debut.

Mitchell is excited about Canada's new wave of track cycling talent, and she hopes the momentum being created can help the sport continue to grow for years to come.

"It's very exciting to see these young guys come through and bring the intensity and excitement to be at their first games and be representing Canada," Mitchell said. It's amazing to see this sport keep on growing, and that's kind of the goal out of all this.

"I hope the Olympics helped get this sport seen and people are excited about it and more people want to do it. So hopefully the excitement carries on into the Commonwealth Games."

Mitchell, Genest and Orban are competing in the sprint, team sprint, keirin and time trial events in London — putting Canada in a solid position to reach the podium.

Canadian elite women's road champion Maggie Coles-Lyster is making her Commonwealth Games debut while competing on both the track and road.

A two-time Pan Am Games medallist, Coles-Lyster will lead the Canadian women in the track endurance events — the team pursuit, points race, scratch race and individual pursuit. She will be joined by Bonhomme, Ngaire Barraclough and Devaney Collier.

WATCH l Coles-Lyster wins scratch race in UCI Track Champions League:

Foley and Gee will lead the way for Canada in men's track endurance alongside newcomers Mathias Guillemette and Riley Pickrell. Foley and Gee helped Canada capture team pursuit bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and finished fifth in the same event in Tokyo.

The road events begin Aug. 3 after competition wraps up on the track, with four gold medals on the line in the men's and women's road race and time trial events.

Coles-Lyster will boost Canada's podium chances in the women's road race as part of a talented group that includes Olympians Alison Jackson, Leah Kirchmann and Bonhomme, along with Canadian U23 women's champion Simone Boilard.

"Our team showcases both the progress our athletes have made on the world stage and the passing of the torch to a new generation of Canadian cyclists," Westwood said.

Mitchell has quickly become the face of the Canadian cycling team, and her quick rise to the top has been a whirlwind to say the least. A former varsity soccer player with the University of Alberta, Mitchell made the transition to track cycling in 2017 after being discovered at an RBC Training Ground event — a program designed to discover young Canadian athletes with Olympic potential.

Mitchell entered her first track cycling race in February 2018, and she would go on to win three medals at the Canadian Championships later that year — including the national women's sprint title. The medals kept coming in 2019 with sprint gold and team sprint silver at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

Champion mentality

And now, just four years after her first race, Mitchell is embracing the pressure that comes along with being an Olympic champion.

"There's definitely pressure going into Paris being the reigning Olympic champion, but anyone can beat anyone and that's always been my mentality. Whether I have a target on my back or not, I already had that there in my head, that pressure was already there," Mitchell said.

"I'm happy that I have the internal pressure that matches the external. I'll give my best on that day, and if that's another gold medal then amazing. And if not, I'll be happy with what I accomplish."

Mitchell still has a lot of other milestones and challenges she is looking forward to along the way before the Paris Olympics in 2024, including the UCI Track World Championships set for October in France.

"I've never won a world championship title. I've never been to Commonwealth Games and won a medal there, so hopefully that's next on the list. There's just a lot of things I still want to accomplish as an athlete," Mitchell said.

Inspiring future cyclists

But representing Canada is about much more than winning medals for Mitchell, as she also wants to be a role model for the next generation while helping the sport reach new heights.

"I really hope that my story, and my success with this sport will help make it grow and become more popular," Mitchell said.

"I know I can give back to the community and try and use my name or use that medal to try and motivate kids or adults to get on the bike or get active and just keep living their best life."

Mitchell and Genest's medals in Tokyo were the first Olympic track cycling medals won by Canadian women in 17 years — giving young girls around the country an image of inspiration on the biggest stage.

"I'm honoured that I get to show women and young girls that this is an amazing sport, and you can have a ton of fun doing it," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the last four years have flown by. But even though things are moving so quickly, particularly in a shortened quadrennial, she said she wouldn't have it any other way.

"Paris 2024 is just around the corner; we have to start getting points and qualifying for it starting this year. It doesn't stop and that's what I love. I don't want to stop, and I love getting to do this every single day. I'm living my best life, It's great," Mitchell said with a laugh.

You can stream all of the action from the Commonwealth Games on CBCsports.caCBC Gem and the CBC Sports App for iOS and Android devices.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting