It was 34C and the humidity made the air pungent and sticky. The New Zealand women's track cycling team sat in a sterile concrete corridor beneath the grandstand of an empty velodrome, and gently sipped on bottles of iced water.
Lauren Ellis unzipped from the clingy grips of her lycra top. Alison Shanks sucked on a squidgy brown energy supplement made almost entirely of refined sugar. It comes in a plastic wrapping and is sweeter than maple syrup, probably best avoided if you're not an elite athlete.
Dripping with sweat and having so far completed a full gym session, a 20km ride to the velodrome and ninety minutes of sprinting practice, the women prepared for an hour's ride home. One couldn't blame them for feeling a little reluctant, but such is a typical day's training for those pursuing Olympic glory.
Kutztown, Pennsylvania is a University town. It's quaint, small and pretty, with leafy streets and a by-law that prevents chain outlets from building McDonalds and KFC restaurants on the main drag. Its permanent population is a smidge over 5000, which triples when Kutztown University is in session. And for the last four or five years, the summer population has been plumped up that little bit more by the arrival of New Zealand's best cyclists.
It's a slick operation. During the US summer break BikeNZ rents a few blocks of otherwise empty student flats and splits up its riders and support teams. The flats aren't suntraps and the interior colour motif's pretty dull. But they work. The girls cook their own meals, wash their own clothes and watch TV together in the evenings. Several days a week they drag huge fans into their lounge rooms and train indoors on specialised cycling machines. Vitally, they each have their own space. And it's not as though Kutztown's nightlife provides too many distractions. It's not Vegas. Or New York. Or New Plymouth even.
Kiwi cyclists first trained in Pennsylvania more than a decade ago. The Trexlortown Velodrome is apparently the most popular velodrome in the US and its summer meets give visiting cyclists regular opportunities to train or compete with local talent. The local commentator speaks warmly and familiarly of New Zealand competitors. And sitting outside the admin block is an old car apparently abandoned by Kiwi cyclist Graham Miller more than 15 years ago. Out of respect it's never been moved.
The infrastructure and training facilities suit. The housing suits. And for the hours they spend slogging along backcountry roads, Kutztown's locals provide some unusual sights.
The area is home to large Amish and Mennonite communities, religious conservatives with German origins who continue to live the relative simple life. Street signs warn of horses and carts. Postcards carry pictures of women in full-length dresses toiling under blazing suns in shade-less fields. The local shops even have a special pole outside, to which to tie your horse.
So as the New Zealand Women's team turned for home after a gruelling day of training, they needed only look at the view to appreciate that relatively, life wasn't so tough. Sure, they were tired. But they hadn't been ploughing fields since dawn. Sure, the lycra was tight and everyone was sweaty. But they weren't in dresses and scarves. And sure, they faced a long haul along 40 kilometres of winding roads to get home. But at least their two-wheelers have gears.
Different strokes and all that.
Read more Jack Tame opinion here