Rough ride for Neethling
Candice Neethling (Gallo Images)
Hadleigh farm - South Africa's Candice Neethling won the hearts of fans Saturday as she struggled to compete in an elite field of women mountain bikers at the Olympic Games.
And despite coming last in the 30-strong field, the 20-year-old was buoyed at having taken the first step on a journey which she hopes will get easier on the way to Rio 2016.
"I'd hoped to finish around 20th, but this is the Olympic Games. People bring their best and that's what you compete with," she said.
"It was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done. It was a rough race from the word go.
"If it had been any other race it would have been lonely, but people were absolutely incredible out there."
Neethling was one of several riders left trailing by the furious pace from the start of the six-lap race of attrition.
After three laps she was already over two minutes off the pace and at the finish she trailed home 14min 11sec down on triumphant Frenchwoman Julie Bresset, who took gold ahead of 40-year-old German Sabine Spitz.
Despite her last place, for Durban native Neethling there were plenty of positives.
"I've seen so many South African flags, I didn't realise so many South Africans lived in London," she added.
"To be at this event, at 20 years old, I'm so happy to have been able to do that. I have less experience, I'm younger and this is all about the journey of getting better and that's all that I could ask for."
Racing alongside mountain bike stars like Spitz and Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa, Neethling was asked about her role models.
But she took reporters by surprise when she said: The best people would be the ones who aren't just good on the bike, they're champion human beings.
"And that's always what I strive to be. Not just a champion on the bike."