Words by Matt Bartolo / olympics.com.au | Images by Flow, Getty Images

McConnell makes history as Bowden gets first chance on Olympic stage

Daniel McConnell will make Australian Olympic history in Rio as he becomes the nation’s first athlete to compete at three Games in the mountain bike discipline.

He is joined in Rio by one of the nation’s brightest prospects in the sport in 21-year-old Scott Bowden, who will make his Olympic debut at the Deodoro Mountain Bike Centre.

“Of course I am excited to represent Australia at the Olympics in Rio,” said McConnell.

HADLEIGH, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 12:  Daniel McConnell of Australia in action in the Men's Mountain Bike race on Day 16 of the 2012 Olympic Games at Hadleigh Farm on August 12, 2012 in Hadleigh, Essex.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

HADLEIGH, UNITED KINGDOM – AUGUST 12: Daniel McConnell of Australia in action in the Men’s Mountain Bike race on Day 16 of the 2012 Olympic Games at Hadleigh Farm on August 12, 2012 in Hadleigh, Essex. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

“It is the biggest event you can do so to be able to compete in my third Games it means a lot to me and something I can share with everyone who has helped me along the way.”

Since finishing 21st at the London 2012 Games McConnell has risen up the world rankings and currently sits just outside the top ten.

“I have progressed quite a lot since London. I had to train so hard to make those Games and I’ve continued to train just as hard and keep that focus up ever since.

“My main focus at the moment is getting back to the form that got me to the top end of the sport and I’m putting all my energy into that, if I can get there for Rio anything is possible.”_LOW3002

McConnell’s partner Rebecca Henderson was announced to the Rio 2016 Team last week and McConnell is again looking forward to competing alongside her.

“This will be our second Olympics together which is amazing.

“To be able to experience this together is something we will remember for a life time and because it means so much to both of us it definitely motivates us to keep pushing the limits.”

Bowden rounds out the three-member Mountain Bike team for Rio and gets his first shot at Olympic competition in Rio.

“Making an Olympics from quite a young age was something I definitely dreamed of after watching it on television every four years.”_LOW2376

“Witnessing the hype around the Olympics when they were in Sydney in 2000 really resonated with me and highlighted the enormity of the sporting event and how it is so much more than that alone. Since then to be a part of that had been a big dream.”_LOW3393

Bowden first thought he could make Rio in late 2014 when he stuck with McConnell until halfway through the final lap in the opening round of the national series before finishing in second.

While the Olympic year not been all smooth sailing as he builds for Rio the young gun has posted a number of solid results.

“2016 hasn’t gone exactly to plan however I’d say the highs outweigh the lows, and the season obviously isn’t over yet._LOW2321

“Defending my U23 National title, claiming 3rd in the Elite division at the Oceania Championships and 7th at the first World Cup in Cairns have been among the highlights so far.

“I’m still super motivated and really looking forward to putting in plenty more hard work leading into Rio, and feel as though I’ve still got my best performance to come.”

If that personal best is to be produced in Rio, Bowden knows he will have to have a strong final few weeks prior to the 2016 Games.

“Three weeks before the race in Rio I will travel to Quebec, Canada and race World Cup #5 there before the final leg down to Rio._LOW2589

“This World Cup will serve as the perfect hit out before the final preparations for Rio and as an added bonus Quebec is on the same time zone as Rio so I should well and truly be over the jet lag.”

The men’s mountain bike competitors are among the final athletes to compete in Rio with the race taking place on the final day of competition in Rio.


Henderson proud to be back on mountain bike’s biggest stage

Rebecca Henderson is set to take to the rugged terrain of the Deodoro Mountain Bike Centre after she was announced as Australia’s women’s representative for the gruelling discipline at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

HADLEIGH, ESSEX - AUGUST 11:  Rebecca Henderson of Australia during the Women's Cross-country Mountain Bike race on Day 15 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at at Hadleigh Farm on August 11, 2012 in Hadleigh, Essex.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

HADLEIGH, ESSEX – AUGUST 11: Rebecca Henderson of Australia during the Women’s Cross-country Mountain Bike race on Day 15 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at at Hadleigh Farm on August 11, 2012 in Hadleigh, Essex. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

It will be Henderson’s second Games appearance after she made her Olympic debut in London where she finished 25th.

The 24-year-old from Canberra has had a steady rise up the rankings to her current place inside the world’s top 20, which was helped by a breakthrough bronze medal winning performance at the opening World Cup event of the 2016 season in Cairns._LOW2907

The result paved the way for another shot at Olympic competition.

“The Olympics in London was amazing,” Henderson said.

“It blew my mind in every possible way and it is what has kept me pushing towards Rio.

“The experience it gives you and the exposure it gives to your sport can really help the sport to progress.”

With another four years of competition under her belt, Henderson will be more readily able to embrace the challenges an Olympic Games throws at you.

“Last time there was so much focus on just being selected that I didn’t have a plan in place for if I was selected.

“This time I have been working towards the Olympic Games as one of my main focuses of the season and not had to stress about the selection.

“I also have the experience of the London Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – so I feel pretty comfortable about how the ‘Games’ operates. It was a lot to take in the first time.”

The Rio course will throw up plenty of challenges for Henderson and her fellow competitors with a number of rocky jumps and a 40-degree descent down a staircase of wooden beams standing in the way of Olympic glory._LOW2822

Henderson got the chance to head to Rio last October to get to know the course and believes it will be a fast and tactical affair.

“The test event gave me a good idea of the course, the climate and the lifestyle in Brazil.

“I think the course is great – it will make for great spectating and TV coverage which is a huge part of the Olympic Games – showing our sport to a wider audience.

“I don’t think it shows ‘raw’ mountain biking but definitely modern mountain biking with plenty of climbing and technical features. The course is fast so it should also be pretty tactical racing.”

With 50 of the world’s finest women’s Mountain Bike athletes set to hit Deodoro on the penultimate day of Olympic competition, on Saturday August 20, the racing doesn’t get any tougher for Henderson.

“I had the ride of my life at the Cairns World Cup and while I would not consider myself a medal contender in Rio but that doesn’t mean I won’t be giving 100% in my preparation and race in Rio.

“Who knows, I didn’t expect to podium in Cairns.”

Henderson kicked off the 2016 season with a number of wins in the national series before taking out the Oceania Championships.

After her World Cup podium in Cairns she secured anther top 10 finish against world class competition when she was eighth across the line at the La Bresse World Cup in France.

She finished 48th over the weekend at the Mountain Bike World Championships in the Czech Republic._LOW2878

Australia have never won a medal before in Mountain Bike with Mary Grigson’s sixth place finish at the Sydney 2000 Games the best finish by an Australian in Olympic competition.

Australia has also qualified two men for the Mountain Bike competition in Rio, to be held on Sunday 21 August, but due to an appeal these athletes will be selected at a later date.

Henderson, along with the other 24 cycling athletes (Track, Mountain Bike, Road) selected today, take the overall 2016 Australian Olympic Team to 301 from 22 sports, with an expected final Team of over 400 athletes._LOW2984

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