Without a cycling helmet, she would probably have been killed.
Three years after surviving an horrific accident, German cyclist Kristina Vogel will arrive at the Olympics as the world team sprint champion and record holder.
Her Melbourne world championship triumph was the 21-year-old’s first taste of glory on the world stage and she will be battling alongside Britain’s Victoria Pendleton and Australia’s Anna Meares for the Olympic sprint gold medal in London.
It is all a far cry from April 20, 2009, when she collided with a minibus while riding her bike near her home in Erfurt, Germany.
“A minibus took the right of way and I flew threw the windscreen,” said Vogel, who was 18 at the time. “I am lucky I am not quadriplegic since I broke the fifth vertebrate in my neck on both sides. I also broke my cheekbone, bones in my hand, sustained a lot of deep cuts, especially in the face and lost six teeth in my lower jaw. I was in an artificial coma for two days, spent four weeks in hospital, and was strapped to the bed for two and a half of them when I could only lie flat.”
“It took three months of rehab and I was off my bike for four months in total, but it wasn’t hard for me to get back in the saddle,” she said. “I couldn’t talk at the time, so I wrote on a piece of paper that my goal was to race at the world championships the following March. That was my motivation and challenge.”
Back then, the plucky teenager fulfilled the promise to herself and finished fifth in the individual sprint at the 2010 world championships in Copenhagen and along with partner Miriam Welte came sixth in the team sprint.
Vogel won the bronze in the keirin at this year’s championships in Melbourne, Australia, in April, but it was alongside Welte in the team sprint where the pair shone.
Having set a new world record in qualifying, they lowered their own mark in the final to claim gold in 32.549 seconds, beating home favorites Kaarle McCulloch and Anna Meares of Australia in the process.
“The title was a surprise for us,” Vogel said. “It has given us a lot of confidence, the world championships have shown Miriam and I that we are up there, and it is a good base, especially remembering what it was like to stand on the podium.”
Looking ahead to London, Vogel, a part-time police officer, said she expects the British cyclists to be very strong, especially motivated by their home crowd and an impressive haul of six gold medals in Melbourne.
“Next to the Chinese and Australians, the British are amongst the favorites for the medals,” she said. “We tend to be outsiders, so with a bit of luck we can hope to reach the small final [for the bronze medal]. It will be a very difficult competition and it will come down to form on the day.”
“The hall will be shaking with the noise and I doubt we will be able to hear our own words,” she said. “That will mean a lot of pressure for us, but I will use that shaking hall as motivation.”
Vogel said Britain’s world sprint champion Victoria Pendleton and Australia’s Meares, the world 500m time-trial champion, are names to watch for.
“Those to watch out for and the ones to count on are Pendleton, Meares, China’s Shuang Guo and Lithuania’s Simona Krupeckaite,” Vogel said. “Although I think the sprint gold medal will be played out between Meares and Pendleton.”