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MacGillivray Freeman FilmsTop Speed Project
Marion JonesLucas LuhrMarla StrebStephen Murkett
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Marla Streb
Mode of Speed: Mountain Bike
Claim to Fame: World Championship Medalist
Top Speed: 67 miles per hour

Marla Streb had a very different life before she became a World Champion mountain-biker: with a Master of Science degree she was a hard-working research biologist devoted to finding a cure for AIDS at the famous Scripps Institute. In fact, Marla only began riding a bike on a daily basis in 1990, when she took an extra job as a bike messenger. Soon, however, it became her life’s passion. When she started racing, she made up for her lack of experience by using the same smarts and work ethic she had brought to her biology career, turning her focus to training with scientific exactness. A little fearlessness didn’t hurt, either. In the past five years, she has broken five collarbones, sustained six concussions, blown two ligaments, received 200 stitches and added broken ankles, fingers and thumbs to the mix – all in the name of finding the optimal balance between speed and staying on the bike!

By 1993, she quit her job at Scripps and turned pro at the late age of 28. She fought her way to the top and by 2000, she was competing in more than 40 races a year including downhill, dual slalom, BMX, cross-country, cyclo-cross and moto-cross, and even won a bicycle ice-race down an Olympic slalom course in Italy! In 2000, she proved her mettle by winning the bronze medal at the World Championships, becoming the third best woman mountain biker in the world. In 2001, she continued to blaze through the mountain biking world, taking Gold at one of the National Series races and winning the Sea Otter Classic. She has also one of the free-wheeling sport’s most controversial personalities – she has been seen starring in an ad for an energy bar in which she repeatedly ran into a redwood tree; and also was seen posing nude, on her bike of course, in Outside Magazine.

Marla feels she still has her prime ahead of her, and aims to win both the World Championship and the World Cup. In addition to her accomplishments on the trail, Marla plays classical piano, billiards and the saxophone. She lives part-time on her sailboat and plans one day to circumnavigate the globe. She recently finished a memoir tentatively titled Downhill: The Life Cycle of a Gravity Goddess, which will be published by Penguin Putnam in November 2003.

Q&A With Marla Streb:
Q: What is it inside that drives you to keep going faster and faster?

A: What keeps me so driven is that it always takes more and more speed to keep getting that “fix.” Only when I get it can I sleep well at night.
Q: Why do you think humans have a "need for speed?"

A: I think defying nature makes us feel special. Prehistorically speaking, our bodies weren't designed to go more than about 20 mph, even during a full sprint. Now, by striving for top speeds, we're surpassing even evolution, which is amazing.

Q: What is your favorite part of going fast?

A: I feel like I’m conquering fate. I'm rebelling against my instincts to be safe, and I'm truly "in the moment,” because any small slip-up could mean a limb, or my life.

Q: How does it feel when you've reached your own top speed?

A: Giddy elation; simple and childlike.

Q: In TOP SPEED, the principles of speed are divided between body, mind and heart. Is there one that is most important to you?

A: To me what is most critical in reaching top speed is creating a synthesis from what are usually disparate principles of body, mind and heart. It’s about pulling it all together.

Q: How do you conquer fear while going fast on a mountain bike?

A: Fear should never be an issue while racing a mountain bike because it only slows you down. If I'm ever afraid of a section on the race course, I approach that part thinking scientifically about the pure physics of the event, with no emotion.

Q: What role does your training as a scientist play in how you approach racing?

A: I use my science background to structure my training and organize my approach to racing. Sometimes, science also helps me to twist legitimate theories around in order to rationalize some crazy jump or risk, like knowing that the gyroscopic motion of my turning wheels will stabilize me, but only with increasing speed, or that spacetime is relative the faster that you travel!

Q: How would you rate Tim Allen as a mountain biker?

A: He's very enthusiastic and a quick study. He also scares away all the animals.

Q: If you gave one piece of advice to somebody who wants to go faster on their bike (without breaking bones!) what would it be?

A: Relax! Relax! Relax! And don't listen to what your mom taught you!

Q: Do you think there is a limit to how fast humans can go on a bike?

A: No, There are no absolutes. Someone will always find a way to go faster...

Q: What do you think the future holds for mountain bike racing?

A: In the near future a critical mass of kids who are just beginning to ride their bikes now – going to school, in the woods, just messing around -- will make sure mountain bikes go much faster than the world champions could ever dream of today.

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