It would be difficult to find someone on the streets of Australia that hasn’t heard of Anna Meares. The three-time Olympian – with two gold, one silver and two bronze – is on par with men’s road cyclist and former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans in terms of mainstream popularity and appeal.
Quite simply, Meares is the embodiment of the human spirit – she has proven throughout her own hardships, disappointments and resiliency that she is both a world champion in the velodrome as well as out of it.
Cyclingnews caught up with the four-time 500m world time trial champion Anna Meares, who was busy raising money for the Little Heroes Foundation, where she is aiming to raise $100,000 for shaving off her locks in August to help build a new rehabilitation facility for kids recovering from chemotherapy and surgery.
Meares has already raised $26,000 and was happy to Cyclingnews about her second-place finish at the UCI Track World Championships in Cali earlier this year, and what she has learned from her loss, as well as her plans for her fourth Commonwealth Games in Glasgow come July:
Cyclingnews: What have you been up to since Cali?
Anna Meares: At the moment training is at the forefront. I had a couple of weeks off after the world championships ended back in February-March to get my wisdom teeth removed – all four of them. I had been putting it off for five years and this was probably going to be the best break before [the 2016 Rio Olympics] to get it done. I have been getting into training ever since with a bit of focus on the Commonwealth Games in July.
CN: Just how relevant are Commonwealth Games to you?
AM: Any opportunity you get to represent your country – or in my case to wear the green and gold for Australia – is great. It’s also a platform of development for athletes that can potentially become Olympians. Even though I have been at the top level, the Commonwealth Games are still very important to me.
CN: Do you have a fondest memory from racing the Commonwealth Games?
AM: One of my highlights was racing one of the Indian girls in the first round in Delhi in 2010, and keeping the race close so that she could enjoy the experience of racing in front of her home crowd. She was a bit slower than me, but it was just such a poignant moment because my sport and my ability were able to help her enjoy that experience. I think that’s the beautiful part of the sport. It’s not just all about gold medals and funding, it’s all about enjoyment and giving something to people and being a part of it.
CN: This year’s Commonwealth Games reverts back to just two races for women sprinters with the 500m time trial and sprint race, are you disappointed?
AM: Two is standard for female sprinters. Delhi was an exception as they did trial the team sprint, which really was wonderful to have a team event in there. I think we shot ourselves in the foot with the British team not attending Delhi, which meant we had very minimal teams start. We couldn’t field a team from England or Wales, so the numbers weren’t there which is fair enough, but still quite sad from the sport’s perspective.
CN: The Commonwealth Games track team selections are expected after the trials May 30-31, and while you have an automatic slot with your win in Delhi and a 500m time trial win at the World Cup in Aguascalientes, who do you expect to earn the final spot?
AM: The other two ladies contesting for the second – and final position – are Stephanie Morton and Caitlin Ward. Steph is proven herself very capable over the past two years. Caitlin is a very new name to the track sprinting scene in terms of international competition, but she has stepped up through the junior ranks and had a very good track nationals and has been given the opportunity to contest the trials against Steph in May. It’s going to be interesting.
CN: You mentioned losing to Morton, you also came up just short at the world champs in Cali. After the race you said ‘Some days you get beaten, you just have to make sure that you are not defeated’, can you elaborate?
AM: Cali was tough. Hindsight has given me a clearer perspective, but sometimes when you are caught up in the heat of battle, and in the face of media, with all the expectations and pressure, sometimes perspective is skewed and that can lead to misinterpreting your actual outcome and performance.
CN: Did you feel as though you let yourself or others down by not capturing gold?
AM: I was having quite a dilemma over dealing with what I felt my expectations were to be successful, when actually I had really good performances in Cali based off the preparations I was able to put in on the timeframes I had. I was feeling that people were expecting me to win, but I wasn’t.
CN: So your post-race comments were an explanation of sorts?
AM: I was just trying to explain to people that I have not won every race, but I have taken something from each loss to make me a better athlete, a better performer, for next time. And that was ultimately my point in that while I was beaten on the day, I was not a defeated athlete. I was able to take something from it and grow.
CN: How will you take that growth and use it toward the remainder of the 2014 season?
AM: I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but let’s just say that I have become aware of some challenges that I have faced – that at the time I wasn’t aware of or didn’t notice.
CN: Challenges, such as?
AM: I have been very fortunate to be able to speak with Chris Hoy (GBR) and he has been a great mentor for me, especially on how he was able to remain focused and keep his priorities between big competitions in check. I mean a guy that won three Olympic gold medals and then turned around to win two at the next Olympic Games is someone you can really learn from if he lets you pick his brain.
CN: What advice did Sir Chris Hoy give you?
AM: He gave me some really good advice on how to keep the speaking engagements, media requests, sponsor responsibilities, all that sort of stuff, in check around what’s the priority which is training and preparation, because you don’t get the end results we are after without doing just that. It is a balancing act that I am learning to manage better and I think that is the best thing I have taken away from my experience in Cali.
CN: Will anything less than a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games be considered a disappointment?
AM: No. No, I think that’s the trap that I need to make sure that I don’t get caught up in. It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks I should do in terms of my performance and ultimate outcome at the Commonwealth Games. What matters to me is that I work hard and get a reward that reflects the work I’ve put in. If I do everything right, I need to be satisfied with that otherwise I’m not going to enjoy it.
CN: How do you continue to enjoy racing and stay motivated after 18 years of competition?
AM: I am hugely motivated. I just find this sport addictive. The Olympic Games are addictive. You are right, I have been in this sport for 18 years and I have had three shots at the Olympic Games, when you put it on that scale, how rare of an opportunity is that? How rare to showcase all your hard work in one moment and culminate that into a successful performance, my fingers are clinching as I am talking about this as it is so addictive to me. I love this sport and very passionate about it.
CN: What’s next for Anna Meares?
AM: Very little at the moment. I get to enjoy some time at home and a few more months of hair before I shave it all off for my ‘Little Heroes’ while prepping for Glasgow. The Commonwealth Games throws a spanner in the season’s preparations because it is quite early – it’s in July. Our first international competition is not until October with the Oceanias and followed by the first World Cup in November. It’s right in the middle of pre-season prep, so the management of my program is going to be big on my coach’s part.