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Let the Games finally begin

The Summer Games may be winding down, but for two Maryland Olympians, they're just beginning: Georgia Gould is a top contender for the mountain bicycling race on Saturday while Suzanne Stettinius will compete in the very final event, modern pentathlon on Sunday.

"At first I was upset being last," Stettinius, 24, of Parkton said Friday from her room in the athletes village. "But now, a lot of people are finished. It's over for them, but I still have my chance. I'm kind of enjoying being last."

Stettinius' parents, William and Ava, whom she lives with on a horse farm just below the Pennsylvania border, arrived Friday. Along with her four siblings, grandparents and a few of her coaches, she'll have a personal cheering crew of 14.

She and her two U.S. teammates, Margaux Isaksen and Dennis Bowsher, along with pentathlon teams from other countries, have actually spent most of the past couple weeks in Poland, where they could train for their events away from the hubbub. The teams trained together even though on Sunday they'll be battling it out for the medals.

"It's kind of cool, in pentathlon, everyone is supportive of everyone," she said of working out with members of the German, Lithuanian, Kazakhstan and Polish teams.

Stettinius left the morning after she marched in the Opening Ceremony and returned Tuesday, and only now is seeing some of the venues where the five disciplines of her sport — fencing, swimming, horse jumping and the combined running and shooting event — will take place. She hopes to participate in the closing Sunday night, unless her competition gets delayed.

Being away from here and the Games helped keep her calm and focused on her work, she said, although now that she's back she's feeling a bit anxious about competing on such a large stage.

"I kind of forgot I was on the Olympics," she said of 1 1/2 weeks in Poland. "Now the nerves are kicking in. I'm trying to stay calm."

As her first Games, and not as well-known as some of her global competition, Stettinius said her coaches have advised her that being under the radar can work to her advantage. "The eyes are not going to be on you," she said a coach told her.

In the village, she rooms with Isaksen and shares a suite with the U.S. synchronized swimmers duo, Mary Killman and Mariya Koroleva, who placed 11th in their final Tuesday.

Stettinius has admired how smoothly everything, especially the food service, runs at the athletes' village and recently got her long, curley hair cut above shoulder length in a salon there. She was delighted when an Englishman recognized her name, and asked if she was related to FDR's secretary of state, Edward Reilly Stettinius. (A great-great uncle, she said.)

"They seem to know their history here," she said.

Gould, 32, has already had a taste of her race: Last year, she was among 82 cyclists to test the Mountain Bike course created on Hadleigh Farms in Benfleet, Essex, about 35 miles east of London. The test event drew a sellout crowd of 5,000 spectators who saw Gould come in second to a Canadian cyclist.

"I think it was definitely a good move for me," Gould said Thursday at a press conference here. I definitely benefit from the more time that I spend on a course, so I tried to take advantage of every opportunity that's been available to be out here on the course."

Gould is the reigning U.S. cross country mountain bike national champion. She grew up in Guilford and Ruxton, attended Roland Park Country Day School for a time, and eventually moved out West. She and her husband, Dusty LaBarr, also a mountain cyclist and mechanic, live in Colorado.

She said at the press event that despite this being her second Olympics — she placed eighth in Beijing — it hasn't become "old hat" for her.

"It's an amazing experience both times," she said, "knowing how to do your best and tune stuff out and not worry about trying to meet family. I was just telling the new guys, to add five hours to whatever you think you're going to get done. That's how long it takes to do stuff at the Olympics. You think you're going to have all of this free time and you barely have time to sit down for five minutes."

Marc Gullickson, mountain bike programs director for USA Cycling, said Gould's experience both on the course itself and the Games in general, have proved helpful to less expereienced teammates. And, for her own prospects on Saturday.

"I think the fact that [Gould] was able to race on the course and gauge that effort and how the race is going to play out, even though it wasn't quite at the speed that this Olympic race will go off at, I think that will help her have an idea of how this race, in theory, might play out," Gullickson said.

Let the Games begin.

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