Reigning triple world champion rules out friendship with Pendleton - for now
Embarking on a war of words with arch-rival Victoria Pendleton was never going to be Anna Meares' style, following the Brit's attack on the reigning sprint, keirin and team sprint world champion with the Australian adamant that her battles would be fought only on the track.
Speaking at a press conference in Melbourne on Thursday afternoon, in the lead up to next week's UCI Track World Championships, Meares denied Pendleton's claim on Tuesday that she is a rider who not only "likes to push the rules," but had snubbed her friendship.
"No, I think that's incorrect," Meares responded when asked if there was any lasting bitterness from her side. "I've always had respect for Victoria and I've always said that I've had respect for Victoria. I've never said anything on the contrary.
"Sometimes with great rivalries you can't have a great friendship because there is so much riding on the line for those involved, that it's an uncomfortable situation to try and be able to switch off and open yourself up to that person when you do need to beat them on the track," Meares added before comparing the situation to when she had to compete against her older sister, Kerrie.
"I think it's fair to say that all sports people push the limits, myself included," Meares suggested. "The people who judge you on that are the commissaries."
It was an emotional afternoon for Meares as she recounted for the assembled media the significance of next week's championships. The Hisense Arena track was where Meares won her first senior world title, in the 500m time trial in 2004. Two years later at the same venue, Meares went on to win her first Commonwealth Games gold medal and broke her first Commonwealth record. The 28-year-old returns in 2012 as the only member of the Cyclones to have competed at those world championships eight years ago. Having shared the odd tweet with the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Meares no longer feels any pangs as the oldest member of the current Australian line-up because: "They were talking about the 95 and 96 world championships," she explained. Instead Meares is using the step back in time to return to competing in four events next week, with the 500m time trial, again on her schedule after being dropped for the 2011 championships.
Meares' attempts in the 500m time trial, an event in which the 28-year-old has twice been World Champion (2004, 2007), will be dedicated to her first coach, Kenrick Tucker. Meares was forced to check herself before sharing some of the experiences she had in training back in Rockhampton.
"This is a man who saw in me a talent that not many other people did," she explained. "For the many early mornings that he made me get up before school at 5am at the Kenrick Tucker Velodrome in Rockhampton, and for all those motor pacing sessions where I was dodging pigeons out the back of his motorbike – he's a pigeon trainer – and he would often kill two birds with one stone by motor pacing me and throwing pigeons out at random stages of the ride, I dedicate this to him and he will be here to watch me ride."
Packed program for a fierce competitor
As nostalgic and compelling as the story was, it is hard to escape the fact that Meares carries the home nation's hopes when it comes to both the world championships and the upcoming Olympic Games as the highest profile member of the Cyclones. Apart from her thoughts on Pendleton's comments, the next most pressing question for many is: Can Meares defend her rainbow jerseys?
Meares has no hesitation in telling the media how it is. The Adelaide-based cyclist admitted that she is in the condition of her life, feeling fit, strong and confident. However, her comments came with a disclaimer.
"It's not about defending the world titles, it's about regaining them," Meares said referring to a quote by three-time Ironman World Champion and compatriot, Craig Alexander. World titles are not something that belongs to you.
Meares' stance rang true with comments she made to the Australian media heading into the 2011 championships in Apeldoorn in reference to eyeing the sprint crown which had at that point, eluded her. Meares felt that she had to earn the right to challenge for the title.
Meares' program will begin on Wednesday when she competes in the team sprint with Kaarle McCulloch.
"It has been a very long and hard-fought battle between Australia and Great Britain for this event however, China and Germany have really stepped up, both posting times within a 10th of the world record and I think that it's fair to throw France in there as well," Meares said of the event she is eagerly anticipating.
From there, next on the agenda will be the sprint with qualifying on Thursday and the finals on Friday. But both the sprint and the keirin are events Meares won't place any great emphasis on – yet.
"I'm not going to spend time on the sprint and the keirin because the program is so big," Meares warned. "I fear that I could become distracted in the first job that I need to do."
With those three events over that Meares will take on her beloved time trial on the final day of competition, which she feels she will be able to "relax and enjoy" the returning challenge. It's a one step at a time attitude that Meares believes may be required for the relationship between herself and Pendleton, suggesting that fences may only mended once the pair has retired.
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