Victoria Pendleton: time to bounce back
Poster girl, Beijing gold-medallist, one of Team GB's great Olympic hopes in the Velodrome... Sport caught up with Victoria Pendleton ahead of the Games.
London will be Pendleton’s third Olympic outing – her first eight years ago in Athens ended in tears, as she finished sixth in the time trial and ninth in the 200m sprint, while her more experienced cycling teammates collected four medals. It was a very different story four years later in Beijing, as she powered to victory over her long-time rival Anna Meares. Now it's Pendleton who is one of the most experienced members of the team, with younger talent such as Shanaze Reade and her own team sprint partner Jess Varnish coming into the ranks, and after watching almost a week of events, she finally gets her chance to compete at the Velodrome today.
Are you looking forward to getting going?
“Yeah, I am actually. I felt quite intimidated by the whole thing for quite a while, I must admit. When it was two years to go or a year to go or whatever, it seemed like too long to even be excited about something – you know what I mean? You can't be excited about next Christmas the Christmas before – it's a long time! But now it feels like we're on the home straight, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just want to get out there and do it.”
Do you feel you have something of a mentoring role now you're one of the more experienced members of the team?
“Not really, it's weird – although I do sit back and think I am one of the oldest and probably more experienced athletes there, which is really scary. It felt like I was the youngest in the team for such a long time. When I first started, everyone was older, had won loads of medals already, and then there was me. So it's hard to see myself in a different role.”
What do you think you've learned from your previous two Olympics?
“I think the biggest thing I've learned is from Athens, and the whole negativity of that experience. I went into Beijing thinking: 'I am going to enjoy every aspect of this.' Because you're putting on a Team GB jersey, you're representing Great Britain at the Olympic Games, you know? Sometimes you forget how special that is.
“So I went into Beijing thinking: 'I am so happy to be here, I am so grateful that I'm here and I'm gonna enjoy everything about it.' And that means the atmosphere, speaking to the people – even spending time chatting to the housekeepers and people on the buses, all the volunteers. And it was an amazing experience. I absolutely loved it, and I'm just gonna approach London in the same way. I think if you go in with that mindset, you get a lot more out of it, and I hadn't done that previously. All I was thinking of was my race and only my race – you forget how amazing the whole thing is.”
You've spoken before about standing on the podium in Beijing and not really feeling…
“... like I was there? Yeah, I think we're so coached into just thinking about the process of what we're doing, we don't even start to think about the outcome. Don't think about it. It's a very destructive way to think about the results, because you've got no control over them. So the only thing you think about is the process of doing what you know to get across that line first.
"So everything I'd done was about tactics, crossing the line, winning... I hadn't thought one step further than that, which – if it all goes to plan – is obviously the podium. So I got up there and it felt weird. Honestly, I hadn't allowed myself to think about stepping on that podium for one second until it had happened.”
Have you set yourself a target for London?
“I'd like to come back with a medal, at least. I'm not gonna say what colour, but at least one – that's my minimum. I don't want to say any more than that because I really don't want to jinx it – one medal.”
What do you see as your main event?
“The sprint has always been my most important because it was the only one that was an Olympic event – but now I'd have to say the team sprint for me. I'm really enjoying having the team event, sharing the load a bit – it almost feels like there's less pressure in it. When I go up and race with Jess [Varnish], I know I'm always gonna give everything I've got because I don't want to let her down. Psychologically, it's easy. You don't want to let her down and she doesn't want to let you down.”
How much of an advantage is knowing the Velodrome in London going to be?
“It does vary a lot. The gradients, the transition of the gradients, the height of the banking, all these things can vary massively. The quality of the wood; whether it's hard wood or soft wood and how bumpy it's been laid... it all makes a massive difference on how a track rides. All these things vary from track to track, so your tactics vary and the speed varies – and environmental conditions have a huge effect on your speed as well. So there's lots of variables. It's not like a running track, where the only thing you're really gonna have is wind direction and strength. Knowing the Velodrome is important, and being familiar with what tactics work on that particular velodrome.”
What about competing in front of the home crowd?
“Oh, it's a huge lift when you're in front of a home crowd and they're really giving it 100 per cent. It really does give you a lift, and when it comes down to hundreds or thousandths of a second that could be the difference between winning or losing, so we're lucky to have them on our side. Having recently raced in Australia, you could have heard a pin drop when they announced me. In fact, there was some jeering! There was a lot of jeering going on when I ran on and I was like: 'Come on! You wait till you get to London!' I think British fans are better behaved, though – they'll give everyone a little clap.”