During Great Britain’s gold rush on the track at the London 2012 Olympics, sprinter Jess Varnish was one of the few British riders who missed out on glory when she and team sprint partner Victoria Pendleton were disqualified in the semi-finals for an illegal changeover after setting a world record in qualifying.
Three years on, the 25-year-old Englishwoman’s hopes of redemption at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics next summer have been given a significant lift following the return of Becky James and Shanaze Reade to Team GB’s sprint squad.
“Having Becky back has given us a real boost. She’s one of my closest friends, so it’s nice to have my mate back as well. We’ve got Shanaze back as well, which means there’s real competition for places again,” Varnish told Cyclingnews.
“That’s how things used to be and it worked really well. For London there was me and Vicky and Becky, and now there are six girls in the squad. It’s great to have that amount of depth in the squad.”
The team sprint is shaping up to be one of the most competitive events in the Rio Olympic velodrome, with Russia and China emerging to challenge traditionally strong nations such as Great Britain and Australia. Prior to the return of James from long-term injury and Reade from BMX racing, British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton had labelled the women’s sprint events as among the least likely to deliver medals. But that’s now changed he says, and Varnish agrees.
“We’re fully focused on winning gold now. That’s what we’re here to work towards. For us, the competition is really, really tough. There are so many people that are stepping up. The team sprint world record goes every time there’s a competition at the moment, and it’s going to keep going and we’ve got to be ready for that,” she said.
While many will imagine that Rio’s iconic status as a beach and party city will add some extra pizzazz to the Games, Varnish insists that this won’t affect her and her teammates.
“You don’t really think about it. The Olympic Games could be anywhere. The main thing that you think about is the travel and the time difference. But as athletes, and especially within British Cycling, you don’t really think about where you’re going. I could be flying to Spain, anywhere, it wouldn’t really matter,” she insisted.
“The conditions will make a big difference, but you’ve just got to adapt to it. We’ve been in Valencia training for the past two weeks, and it’s a lot hotter there, which is very useful and you get used to training in Manchester every day where it’s not that warm.”
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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