It didn’t seem to matter that Victoria Pendleton only won a single gold medal in her last competition. The championed Golden Girl of British cycling appeared indifferent, all the hard work had been done and she’d managed to put in a good show at the end of a fantastic sporting career. All that was left was the endearing and yet magnanimous tribute to Anna Mears who had beaten her into Silver at the very last. Silver?
A fitting end for someone who has never been the most conventional athlete, with the usual soundbites and pleasantries. We put up with the occasional coldness, the mood swings, the home counties apathy and the open disdain for the sport to which essentially made her who she is. All of it overlooked not just because of the success she gave us a nation, but because of the personal sacrifices she made in delivering it. Years spent indulging a sport she didn’t enjoy, the unbearable pain of training and competition, the staying in, the grubby airport lounges and the boredom of the motorway. Not to mention the hurtful comments from the jealous who found the combination of her appearance and success just a bit too much.
She can also be credited with bringing some glamour to a sport that has changed beyond recognition in this county. What is now a mainstream pastime was once the preserve of a few enthusiasts braving cold wet Sunday mornings in October, mending punctures in the pouring rain on the way back from Clacton. The glamour has come with some criticism from those that suggest that she’s not focused, or has demeaned herself and the sport by exploiting her sexuality.
Her attraction is not just that she’s easy on the eye and has a fantastic figure, it’s also that she’s incredibly strong and could probably bench press more than most men, that’s even before we get to the bike. Shallow as it may be, making something glamorous, or fashionable, usually improves it’s public appeal, and if that helps young people get involved then we’re half way to getting them involved with the sport, any sport. To a point young women have been put off sport by the notion that it’s unfeminine, that blood and sweat aren’t attractive, and that men don’t like ‘Sporty types’ – Sporty Spice was seen as the least attractive member of the group, she wore tracksuits and kept herself in shape, that’s no coincidence.
Smouldering looks aside, we spent years watching in wonder at her incredible power to weight ratio, beating the muscled bulk of he contemporaries time and again. The girl from the Comp in Letchworth ignored all the coaches who dismissed her as too small, answering back by becoming one of the greatest cyclists Great Britain has ever produced.
Victoria Pendleton has served her country and deserves her life back to do as she pleases. Anything, but track cycling.
As the tears flowed the relief on her face was plain to see, and as she did the rounds at the Olympic events we started to get a glimpse of the person that she’s probably spent the last few years waiting to be. We’ll miss it all – holding the flag above the head with both hands, the familiar snake like movement as she sped past her opponents, lording it over the French and the Aussies. The glamour she thankfully brought to the sport will continue, cycling has always been a poseurs sport anyway!
The girl from Bedfordshire will be sadly missed as she packs her bags and walks away. Probably without looking back.