'Nothing to prove' for Cooke

This was the season Nicole Cooke has worked most of her life to achieve. She became the first rider...

This was the season Nicole Cooke has worked most of her life to achieve. She became the first rider to earn Olympic and world titles in one incredible year, an accomplishment not likely to be seen for some time, if ever.

"I've achieved something that will live in the history of the sport forever," Cooke told Reuters. "I can't go any higher and I feel so happy because I know what it took to get there."

The 2004 Olympic Games didn't quite go as planned, despite another strong showing in the months leading up to that event. Cooke realised that this year's Olympics would be her best chance to secure that elusive gold medal. "I was distraught after Athens but I later realised that I hadn't handled the expectation well," she explained.

"The winners in 2004 and 2000 had both geared their entire seasons around the Games whereas I tried to race all season, so I decided to take that lesson to Beijing." The 25-year-old Welshwoman decided that this should be her approach coming into Beijing, although that was almost derailed.

A knee injury last year dragged on throughout the rest of the season, which was cause for concern. "The Olympic dream seemed to be getting further and further away and I wondered how I could possibly catch up," she said, adding that, "Having gone through that helped me remember that cycling is part of who I am but not everything.

"So by the time the Olympics came round I might not have been as prepared as I wanted to be but I was as prepared as I could be and I was happy with that."

This culmination of this arduous process came with the sheer ecstasy of winning her first Olympic gold medal, and she made no secret of how much it meant to her. "It was every emotion coming out," she said. "My whole cycling career flashed before my eyes; all the hard times, the injuries, having had the dream for so long and all the people who had done so much for me."

With her season's objective achieved, it was time to put the icing on the cake in Varese, and possibly take a world title in style. "Psychologically, it was a nice place to be," she explained. "I had nothing to prove, I had done it in Beijing so I looked at it as chance to just go and enjoy it."

This was reflected in the way she raced the women's event - she had nothing to lose and was relaxed coming into the finale. "I've been in races where I've made too much running but you don't get a medal for how many breaks you make, just for crossing the line first," she said of the race.

"So even though everyone in that group was a world or Olympic medallist, I tried to keep calm and on top of the situation. I never thought I would ever even see an Olympic medal but to be top of that podium and get the gold was amazing and then to get the rainbow jersey is very special.

"It's one of the icons of the sport, it's so recognisable, you can't hide in a race and I'm looking forward to wearing it next season."

And the possibility of this not being her last gold medal is realistic, given that she'll only be 29 at her home Olympics. "The 2012 Olympics is the focus for the next four years but the feeling that I've got nothing to prove is very reassuring."

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