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Search for Speed Athlete Profile: Catherine Hamilton

By: Jim Rutberg, TORRE  March 18, 2024

Get to know Search for Speed finalist, Catherine Hamilton

Search for Speed is a new talent identification program designed to introduce track cycling to diverse and underrepresented communities in Los Angeles, providing youth and young adults with a dedicated pathway to the U.S. National Team. Funded by a generous grant from the Rapha Foundation and support from LOOK Cycle and Wattbike, Search for Speed utilizes a multi-stage screening process to identify key talent markers and introduce participants to track cycling. In January 2024, five finalists earned selection to the US National Team Program. Catherine Hamilton is one of the finalists.

Sometimes life-changing opportunities come down to being in the right place at the right time and having the right attitude. For Catherine Hamilton, the right place was the weight room in Los Angeles where the USA Cycling Track Sprint National Team works out. A national-level competitor in weightlifting, Catherine’s experience on a bicycle was limited to riding around the neighborhood, but in the gym her strength and power caught the attention of National Track Sprint Director Erin Hartwell.

The timing couldn’t have been better for Catherine. As a weightlifting competitor in the 55-kilogram weight class, her potential pathway to the Olympic Games was stymied by the decision to drop the 55-kg weight class from the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris – and likely subsequent Games. “My options were either to go up to 59 kilograms or down to 49. I'm very lean, so I didn’t have six kilos to lose. And as long as I’ve been weightlifting, I’ve had a terrible time gaining weight, so going up to 59 would be hard. Even if I got there, the added weight you have to lift to be competitive would have been a big step up, too.”

Fortunately, as one door closed, another opened. “At some point, Erin asked me what weight class I was in. When I told him 55kg, he knew it had just been cut from the Olympics. He told me about Search for Speed and said, ‘You’re strong as hell. I’d like to get you on the Wattbike and see what you can do.’ It was a decision point for me. I talked to my weightlifting coach, and we decided I should go for it!”

From Weightlifting to Track Cycling

Catherine got her chance to show the Search for Speed staff what she could do at an open tryout at the Velo Sports Center Velodrome in Los Angeles. Wearing sneakers, she jumped on the Wattbike for a 6-second power test and recorded a 917-watt effort, as she recalled. The result qualified her to move on to more extensive testing, which included more Wattbike power tests, a vertical leap, and reaction time testing.

Once Catherine qualified for the Talent Integration Camps, the work of learning to ride a track bike began. “Since I live close to the velodrome, the coaches invited me down for an intro to the track,” Catherine recalled. “I got on the bike for the first time with Erin and the entire US National Team right next to me. The banking was spooky, but the biggest problem was my endurance. In weightlifting, we train for a single rep and then sit down for a long time.” Nevertheless, Catherine persisted and started attending community track training sessions and amateur competitions to learn the ropes.

Where many athletes may have felt intimidated or self-conscious being a newbie in an environment of elite athletes, Catherine found confidence from her experiences with weightlifting competitions. “Olympic lifting makes you fearless in a lot of ways. You have to go out on a stage in front of everybody, it’s dead quiet, and you have to lift the most weight you've ever lifted. It triggers your ‘fight or flight’ instincts and you have to choose ‘fight’ and show everyone who you are.”

Catherine’s weightlifting experience was also a big advantage in the weight room, where a lot of the Search for Speed training happened during the summer and fall of 2023. However, the transition to cycling-specific strength training required some adaptations. Catherine noted, “In Olympic Weightlifting, velocity, and explosiveness are important, but in competition, you can have the slowest clean and jerk of your life. If it goes overhead, it still counts. The Track Sprinters use VBT (velocity-based training) more, with fewer lifting sessions and less volume than I was used to as a competitive weightlifter.” Velocity based training devices track the speed of a lift, allowing athletes and coaches to adjust workload, gauge explosiveness, and monitor fatigue. To preserve the strength that helped put her into the finals of Search for Speed, Catherine has been working on a hybrid program with her weightlifting coach, Sean Waxman, and the USA Cycling Coaches.

Bringing a Coach’s Mindset to Competition

When she’s not training in the weight room or on the bike, Catherine is a professional rowing coach for Marina Aquatic Center Junior Rowing, a competitive club program for high school students in the Los Angeles area. Her experience as a coach has helped provide perspective on the selection process she’s been part of with Search for Speed. “One of the most important things to me as a coach is that you can't take the joy out of training,” she explained. “And one of the things I love about the team environment at USA Cycling is that, of course, the coaches are serious about the workout, but they’re here because they love it. And there are coaches who suck the fun out of everything and want to make it a suffer fest. But the lesson I’ve learned in sport is that it ultimately comes down to: Are you doing this because you like doing it?”

So far, Catherine Hamilton likes the training, and her speed and power qualified her as a Search for Speed Finalist. Catherine and the four other finalists (Sterling Reneau, Elliott Davis, Reid Myers, and Hayley Yoslov) have been offered spots in the Sprint Development Pool training group as Talent Integration athletes. Although they are not yet National Team Athletes, they have been invited to receive further coaching and instruction in Los Angeles and are gaining access to the Sprint Development Pool Daily Training Environment. At the same time, Search for Speed continues.

For information about how to participate in the 2024 Open Combine format, visit SearchforSpeed.com.