Campbell stays positive after road race blow

Teniel Campbell’s historic ride in the Tokyo 2020 Women’s Road Race did not yield the desired result. Victory, though, comes in many forms. Yesterday, Trinidad and Tobago’s first-ever female Olympian in the sport of cycling was a non-finisher and a winner at the same time.

“They pulled us out the race,” Campbell explained, “because we were too far behind.”

The latter stages of the 137-kilometre race, from Musashinonomori Park to the Fuji International Speedway, were ridden on a circuit with cyclists required to complete one-and-a-half laps. Entering the circuit with other riders already on the last lap could have resulted in the frontrunners getting mixed in with the back of the race.

“It would be chaos,” Campbell told the Express. “It’s a pity I couldn’t finish. Kind of breaks my heart. I expected more of myself, but I just cracked on that final climb and my legs just started to lock. I got dropped, I reconnected and got dropped again, and I panicked. I should have gone at my own tempo.”

Austria’s Anna Kiesenhoffer conquered the sweltering summer heat and hilly course for a surprise victory in three hours, 52 minutes and 45 seconds. Annemiek van Vlueten was more than a minute behind, the Dutchwoman claiming silver in 3:54:00, with bronze going to Italian Elisa Longo Borghini (3:54:14).

Campbell battled hard on her Olympic debut, and was 52nd after 96.6 kilometres. But at that point, she trailed the leader, Kiesenhoffer by more than 13 minutes, and was subsequently pulled from the race, along with other riders.

“I have to go home and put in some more work. That’s the only thing I can say. I know I’m not a pure climber, but I don’t like to count myself out of anything. I had a lot of setbacks coming into the games. I got into a car accident two weeks before so that threw off tapering and final preparation. I’m actually really happy I actually made it to Tokyo.

“I never felt I was ready,” Campbell continued, “but I just pushed through mentally. I’m really happy for the support I had over here to keep me calm and help me believe in myself. All the prayers, the support, everything, it was really good for me. And seeing all the Trinis again was heart-warming. I’m coming again for 2024, for track and road. Come back for it. Don’t quit. Champions never quit.”

Yes, Campbell is a true champion, adopting a winning attitude in the face of adversity and disappointment. But even the best are boosted when preparing in familiar surroundings.

“I’m finally coming home,” the Europe-based rider declared. “But I’m not coming for holidays. I’m coming back to old training grounds, to put in work, so I can go back up to Europe, smash it, smash World Championships, and finish off the season on a high.”

Team TTO cycling manager Desmond Roberts is excited about Campbell’s future.

“Teniel made Trinidad and Tobago proud! I expect the country and the Caribbean to give her full support. This was a very tough course; she performed very well. Teniel has places to go. Her Spanish coach, Alejandro Gonzales-Tablas, myself, mechanic Elisha Greene and massage therapist June Durham worked together for this achievement—the country’s first female cyclist at the Olympics.”

Campbell might have the heart of a lion, but the back-to back First Citizens Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year is human, and could not mask the strong feelings that accompanied her historic entrance on the Olympic stage.

“I started the season really good. The middle was chaotic, losing my uncle, and then one thing after the other. It wasn’t easy to deal with. Several times I wanted to stop. It was heart-breaking for me because I’m really family-oriented. Not being able to be there with my family, and not hearing that final support from my uncle especially coming into the Games,” Campbell explained, her voice breaking with emotion, “was really hard for me.”

By this time, the tears were flowing. “I tried my best out there because I knew he would have been happy to see me here… but he’s not.”

Roberts, chef-de-mission Lovie Santana and Covid-19 Liaison Officer (CLO) Rheeza Grant stood with Campbell as she lamented the loss of her beloved Uncle Frank, the Team TTO family rallying around one of its brightest stars in her hour of need.