From NAIT to Olympic gold: Discover Kelsey Mitchell’s journey to the podium

by | Mar 25, 2024 | Arts & Life

When Kelsey Mitchell, NAIT grad and Olympic athlete, won a silver at nationals with the NAIT Ooks, she wouldn’t have dreamed that in just three years, she’d be winning an Olympic medal for a completely different sport: track cycling. 

Mitchell left NAIT with two diplomas: an Instrumentation Engineering Technology diploma in 2016, and a Personal Fitness Trainer diploma in 2017. When Mitchell left NAIT, she decided to take a few months off and travel to think about what came next. Four months later, she returned to Canada and learned about the RBC Training Ground’s talent identification program. She went to Toronto, where her performance on a stationary bike impressed Cycling Canada representatives. She was recruited to start training– even though she had never done it before. She realized she had potential “pretty early on.” 

“Everyone was telling me I had a lot of potential. I didn’t look good on the bike. I didn’t know how to bend my arms properly, but I was putting out some good numbers and doing some good times. So, people were saying once I get used to it and can get more aero[dynamic] and learn the tactics and the technique of it all, I could be pretty good,” said Kelsey Mitchell in an interview with the Nugget. 

“I had the confidence going forward that if I keep working at it, who knows where I’d end up, and it ended up being at the Olympics,” she added.

However, despite the confidence the athlete built later, transitioning from soccer to cycling was demanding. “It was tough coming from team sports, running sports, and jumping sports to track cycling, which is individual and obviously on a bike. It took some time to adjust and get used to just that sort of training,” explained Mitchell.

Her path so far 

Unlike what is conventional among most Olympic athletes, Kelsey Mitchell, from Sherwood Park, Alta., began her career at just 23 years old.  In 2018, she won her first national title: women’s sprint at the Canadian Cycling Championships. The following year, she became a multi-champion in different tournaments.

She reached the Olympic peak and won the gold medal in Tokyo 2020 at 26 in the sprint program, a one-on-one tactical race over three laps. She is the second Canadian to win Olympic gold in track cycling. Lori-Ann Muenzer won first place in the same sprint program at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Mitchell has been a full-time athlete for the Canadian cycling team since 2018 and despite the increase in stakes, her feelings about competition haven’t changed. “I put the same pressure on myself when I played soccer at NAIT that I do now racing track cycling.”

She also admitted that the proximity of the Paris Olympic games causes her extra anxiety, as everyone wants to see the current Olympic champion on the velodrome. “I’ve had more of a roller coaster and ups and downs, and they definitely felt a bit more magnified … Just a little bit more pressure being the reigning Olympic champion and people were watching me.”

For those thinking about becoming athletes, Mitchell advises that finding moments of leisure and relaxation is vital, given the pressure athletes face. But those moments may look different for each person, so Mitchell encouraged students to discover what works best for them. 

“It’s so different for everyone,” she explained. “What balance is to someone else may be completely different for somebody. And so finding what works for you is the key thing.” 

Timeline of some of Mitchell’s accomplishments since beginning cycling.

“For example, a lot of people were like, ‘Oh you should go home and visit family.’ And I found when I went home it would kind of cause more stress for me … just know that everyone’s different and you can strive or succeed in what you plan out for yourself.”

Expectations and routine are key

With a heavy training load, Mitchell trains six times a week. She’s in the gym three times a week, but still bikes frequently. She bikes on a track four times a week, and uses a road or stationary bike two or three times a week. 

She adds that she always tries to eat the right things and sleep well: “I do a lot of resting. I sit on the couch a lot and just try and recover to get ready for the next day. I love to train and work hard, but you must rest and recover.”

Discipline and resilience are (or should be) part of the lives of every top athlete. But it’s not always that easy. “It’s been tough. I overdid it with my body and really struggled physically and mentally over the past year, and I’m just starting to feel more and more like myself now.” Learning to observe and respect the body’s limits is essential for every athlete’s life, and Mitchell is no different. 

“But I have some time to turn it around. I want to go out there [Paris Olympic Games] and do my best, perform well, and represent Canada well, and I know my best could be a gold medal.” Track cycling has appeared in every edition of the modern Olympic Games, except for the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Women could only compete for the first time at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. The medal matches in this sport at the Paris Olympics will be held between August 5-11, 2024.

Cover photo via

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