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Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten, whose crash in the Olympic road race shocked viewers worldwide, has been released from the hospital and today, four days after the crash, made her first appearance on Dutch television.
With a bruised face and a quivering voice, she bravely spoke to NOS about Sunday’s race, which saw her career-best performance turn to tragedy when, on the treacherous descent of the Chinese Vista, she misjudged a corner and crashed horrifically.
“It’s not so bad if I consider how hard of a crash I made. I have three broken vertebrae and a pretty bad concussion,” Van Vleuten says about her injuries. “My back hurts quite a bit when I move. It’s OK when I’m sitting still.”
How’s she’s doing mentally and emotionally is the tougher question, and Van Vleuten pauses before answering.
“It’ll take a while to process this one I think,” she says. “The first morning, I woke up and could not stop thinking about “what if”, “I could have had a medal”, “I went for gold”…those thought kept playing in my mind”
“Missing a gold medal,” she says later. “It’s something I am going to be reminded of often and I am going to have to learn to live with that.”
An error in judgement
Van Vleuten says she watched the replay of her crash together with teammate Marianne Vos.
“I made a judgement mistake in that corner,” she says, disagreeing with those who say that she took too many risks on a dangerous descent like that. “I didn’t take any huge risks.”
“It was painful to watch the crash and to realize what kind of impact it must have had on my mother and my friends and family at home. When you see me lying there…I wasn’t aware of how bad it looked,” she says, adding that she feels luckily have gotten off as good as she had.
Happy for Anna van der Breggen
When she took herself out of contention with the crash, the race opened up again and ultimately, it was compatriot Anna van der Breggen who won gold.
Upon winning, Van der Breggen left a voice message for Van Vleuten.
“I will keep that one,” Van Vleuten says as she finally succumbs her emotions. “I thought it was so nice of her. I can imagine it must have been a tough position for her to be in, and she too can imagine how it must feel for me to see her with a gold medal around her neck.”
But Van Vleuten says she is happy for Van der Breggen. She wouldn’t have wanted the medal to go to anyone but another Dutch rider.
Road to recovery
Van Vleuten says she cannot recall losing control, crashing or anything else that happened after starting the descent and before waking up in the hospital. She can, however, remember having her best race yet.
Smiling, she talks about how she surprised herself and everyone else when she, herself not a climber, was able to not just hang with the pure climbers but even ride them off her wheel.
“I knew I was good. But if I look back, I went beyond myself,” she says. “It gives me a very positive feeling that I am capable of this. I am now 33 years old and I had never thought this possible.”
And that hopeful feeling is the one thing she’ll hold onto as she starts her road to recovery.
She will return to the Netherlands on Saturday where she is looking for some peace and quiet as she starts her recovery process.