Victoria Pendleton talks to Sportsister about her preparations for Beijing, moments of self doubt and female sports role models at the launch of Girls4Gold in Manchester.
We now have several female world champs going into Beijing. How does it feel being part of such a strong group of women?
It’s fantastic. When I was growing up there were not that many female athlete role models, and now we’re achieving in a wide range of sports.
The women I remember were athletes like Sally Gunnell and Denise Lewis. But for me as a cyclist, I think I really looked to the men to see what they were doing. There wasn’t really a female cyclist that I aspired to be like, mainly because when I was growing up most of the track cycling was happening abroad.
I’m really lucky now – I get to train with my role models, Chris Hoy, Jason Queally etc. They’re such fantastic athletes and have achieved so much. They are very inspirational.
How are your preparations for Beijing?
It’s going well. I’m in a heavy training phase now, lots of strength and conditioning. I don’t feel very fast at the moment, but I’m assured the speed is still there, I just have to have confidence in my coaches and stay calm.
I’m in a lot better shape than I was for Athens, not just physically but mentally – I am so much tougher and I feel much better prepared.
Do you have moments of self doubt?
There were moments when I thought I didn’t have the talent or the ability to achieve what I wanted. I think everyone has those moments of self doubt. It’s hard when you’re competing on a stage and everyone is watching. I have to take confidence from what I have achieved so far and use that every time I go training. There will always be moments when I have doubts, but I have to remind myself that they are not based on fact.
When I came out of Athens I was pretty down in the dumps, but I worked a lot with the team psychologist and that really helped me come through. I underachieved because I was under prepared for the environment and the magnitude and intensity of the Olympics – it’s a tough one, you can’t just stroll in and win a medal.
Do you therefore envy someone like Shanaze (Reed – BMX world Champ) who does not seem to have any self doubt?
Shanaze is a phenomenal athlete and just a really confident person generally. She’s a different personality to me, that’s just the way it is. I am and have always been hard on myself.
It’s a shame that there are so few events for the women cyclists in the Olympics. I would love to race with Shanaze. Currently there are seven sprint medals available for the men and only three for the women, which is very unfair. We’re hoping that that will be rectified and balanced out.
Is there an opportunity for London 2012 to change that?
Possibly yes, there are talks taking place so we shall see.
A lot of research says girls drop out of school sports because it is uncool or unappealing – what was your experience?
I was very uncool at school. People couldn’t understand why I would want to run the cross country at school rather than walk after 10 minutes, but I am competitive and yes people thought I was a bit weird, but I wasn’t worried about that – I think it helps having a twin brother.
I am a girly girl. You don’t have to give up being feminine to be involved in sport. You can have it both ways You don’t have to be a tomboy.
It’s a poor stereotype to suggest you have to be masculine to succeed in sport. It doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you have the drive and determination.
Sport was not something that was really encouraged in girls, which is a great shame. My school focussed very much on academia.
I had no idea that I would get involved in elite sport. I just really enjoyed sport, was very competitive and the kind of person who just kept trying in everything I did. So for me it was inbuilt in my character. I just wanted achieve something big. I wanted to win and I could see that a lot of the girls I was competing against didn’t have the same drive.
I think it does help to have role models, it makes things seem more attainable and with hard work and dedication you can achieve almost anything you want.
The more role models the better.
Any other sports that you fancy trying?
I would like to try everything if I had the time, maybe when I retire I can try a few.
What sports would you like to go and watch in Beijing?
Well if I get the chance I would love to watch the diving, because it is so different from what I do. I would love to go and watch Tom Daley compete and I also love the athletics.
And finally do you ever still go out just for a fun ride?
Yes absolutely, only last weekend I woke up really early on Sunday and at 7 o clock I decided to get up and go out for a ride on my own. It was great and I just felt so lucky to be out there listening to the birds singing. I love to take it easy and potter along and just enjoy it. I don’t think I will ever lose that. I may want to stop competing but I will always enjoy cycling and being fit.
Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Victoria was interviewed at the the launch of Girls4Gold, a nationwide search for sportswomen of the future. If you are female, aged between 17 and 25 years old, competing in any sport at a minimum of county/regional level; fit, powerful and strong; mentally tough and competitive; up for a once in a lifetime opportunity to become part of Britain’s sporting elite, then Girls4Gold want to hear from you! You can apply at www.uksport.gov.uk/girls4gold. The deadline is the end of June.
If your application is successful you will be invited to one of the following Phase 1 talent assessment events:
Saturday 26th July 2008 – Bath
Saturday 23rd August 2008 – Loughborough
Saturday 30th August 2008 – Manchester