It’s the odd-couple relationship which started from one of Canberra’s most devastating disasters and now Robert de Castella is ready to help Caroline Buchanan take Olympic Games gold.
Almost a decade after bushfires ripped through Canberra’s south, destroying more than 500 homes and killing four people, Buchanan and de Castella have formed an athlete-mentor relationship they hope will yield Olympic glory.
The pair hardly seem to have much in common – de Castella is a marathon legend with an expertise in endurance while Buchanan is a daredevil BMX star with a thirst for adrenaline. But both had to rebound after the fires tore through their lives and a meeting organised by Buchanan’s dad sparked a long-term relationship.
It’s de Castella’s advice that is helping Buchanan deal with the hype and expectation of being a medal favourite in London.
Buchanan will begin her Games campaign tomorrow morning when the seeding runs of the women’s BMX competition start at the Olympic precinct.
She’s ranked No.2 in the world and is the time trial world champion, but the chance to win gold has been the source of her motivation for the past four years.
”[De Castella] just told me to be the professional I am and that I’m the ‘complete yellow pages book’,” Buchanan said. ”He said anything that happens on the course I can handle it, and that’s great advice.
”I’m going to use that going into these races … it’s not about his bike knowledge, it’s about giving the support and I appreciate it.”
De Castella has been Buchanan’s official mentor since they teamed up through an Australian Sport Hall of Fame scholarship program initiative.
But their relationship runs much deeper than mentor and student.
The bushfires brought them together and they’ve remained close since. And even when she was nine years old, de Castella could recognise Buchanan’s talent.
But it’s not the technicalities of flying over jumps they share.
Instead, it’s the way to handle the pressure of performing on one of the biggest stages in world sport.
De Castella was a marathon world champion in 1983 but could only manage fifth in his Olympic campaign the following year because he put too much pressure on himself and trained too much.
Buchanan’s other high profile mentor – surfing great Layne Beachley – is also in London.
”I’m still getting used to talking about riding and not running,” de Castella laughed. ”When we first met she just had that quiet confidence and determination to do well, but attitude is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s just such a big deal to come to your first Olympics and have that expectation of winning … it’s really challenging and difficult to deal with it.
”I don’t know much about the event at all, but I know what you need to do to manage all the pressure.”
Buchanan was too young to compete when the sport was added to the Olympic schedule four years ago.
Since then she’s had a burning desire to reach her goal of racing for Australia in London.
”I like pressure,” Buchanan said. ”Diamonds are made under pressure and I definitely enjoy it.
”I think most of the pressure is going to be on the local girl, so I’m just going to enjoy it.
”Winning the time trial [world championship] was good for me, I know over the four international races we’ve had this year, I’ve been the fastest by the clock on every single trap.
”So I’m just focusing on consistency and that’s one of the big keys coming into an Olympics.”
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