The 2012 Olympic Games in London could be the last for Great Britain's Victoria Pendleton, after she revealed plans to take a year away from the sport in its aftermath and take stock of what she wants to do with the rest of her life. Pendleton, who won sprint gold on the track at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and who has also won a total of eight world championship golds, says that her post-Beijing experience has told her that she needs to take a clean break from cycling next autumn.
“I’m going to take a year out for sure after London, and then decide what I’m doing”, she told The Mirror.
"After Beijing, I had a sort of slump and I should have given myself a break and I see that now. I’ve been training full-time with very limited breaks and holidays for the last 10 years, and post-Olympics 2008 I was back in training and on the track in September training for the national championships. I felt very low and unmotivated. No-one really stepped in and stopped me, and I didn’t have the experience myself to know so I want to do it a little differently this time around.
"2013 will be a year out and then I’ll reassess things. I have been talking about retiring, but who knows? Everyone keeps saying to me, ‘You won’t be able to live without cycling’ - but I’d like to do some mountain biking just for fun, try some new things and give myself a bit of a break, mentally and physically.”
Whether or not that rest period will extend into a permanent break from the sport remains to be seen. In recent weeks and months Pendleton has often spoken about the pressure and intensity of such an all-consuming sport, hinting that permanent retirement could well be on the cards. Yet as the Olympics get closer, her competitive instincts are returning.
“Training’s going really well - I’m definitely on target. I couldn’t ask for any more at this time of year”, she said. "I’ve been on a two-year training programme so I’m well in amongst my preparation for the Olympics. One thing I definitely can’t do is fit too much in, I have to be very specific goals and not many of them. People later in their careers - and I include myself in that category - you have to be a bit smarter about what you do, because the level of performance in training is so high, it’s easy to push yourself over the edge, make a mistake and end up with an injury.
“If you’re already the world’s best, or close to it, you can’t expect that there’s too much more to gain beyond that so you have to balance it very carefully. I’ve had a couple of private sessions on the London Olympic Velodrome all by myself, which was fantastic. I’d never been the only one on a track session before. I had a brilliant time - it’s an excellent facility.”
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