JUST enjoy it. Coming from a well-meaning person who has not won two Olympic golds, one Commonwealth gold and nine world titles, plus a few kilogrammes of silver and bronze, it might have sounded like a token piece of advice.
But this was Victoria Pendleton, holder of all the aforementioned accolades and an athlete who did cope with the pressure of a home Games to win an Olympic gold medal in London, telling Scots who will shoulder expectations at next year’s Commonwealth Games how best to deal with that burden.
What a load of rubbish, eh? You train as if your life depended on it, stop drinking and/or smoking and staying up late, say no to everything you used to say yes to, eat all the right things and generally become a very boring person for two, three or four years entirely on the basis that nothing can distract you from getting every last ounce of energy out of your body in one competition where you could be eliminated in a matter of minutes, or in some sports, seconds.
And here is “Queen Victoria” saying that you should forget all the pressure and just enjoy it. The thing is, she might actually be talking sense.
“I think one of the biggest things is that you are going to have to accept that there will be additional pressure and expectation on home turf. People are going to be a lot more aware of your performances – it’s not going to go under the radar. I think you have to put that to the back of your mind and enjoy it for what it actually is – which is an incredible opportunity to have a home crowd cheer you on,” said Pendleton in Glasgow last week as the 2014 baton began its journey down the Clyde.
“Nothing compares. Even just talking about it, I’m getting goosebumps thinking about what it was like in the London velodrome and having that kind of support. It’s so incredible.
“The opportunity to do that is so rare that you have to embrace it, rather than thinking about anything else. The rest is going to come, unfortunately. But lots of great things can happen as a consequence. I say embrace it, enjoy it, it’s a rare opportunity.
“As an athlete, all you can do is focus on getting the training right. And then the rest takes care of itself. You might be the fastest person on the day; you might not be. There will be no doubt, as a professional athlete, that you are going to give it 100 per cent of what you have got to offer on the day. If that wins you a medal, fantastic. If it doesn’t, then try again.”
Pendleton only competed in one Commonwealth Games, in 2006, when she beat Anna Meares to sprint gold. She describes it as a “landmark” moment because her tutors had told her she would not have time to qualify for Melbourne that year as well as getting a 2:1 in her degree. Naturally, she proved them wrong.
Now 32, she retired from cycling after London and refuses to entertain suggestions that she might have had more to give. She is getting married to the Australian sports scientist Scott Gardner later this year, and she is loving being able to pop round to her mother’s house for a cup of tea, cherishing a “spontaneous” lifestyle after 23 years of racing.
Given that we meet in Glasgow, her mind is racing as she contemplates coming back next summer and entering a velodrome “without wearing any lycra, just to cheer people on”. Pendleton laughs about not knowing exactly who to cheer on at a Commonwealth Games, but who will Scottish fans be in a position to cheer now that Sir Chris Hoy has hung up his helmet?
Callum Skinner, the only Scot currently on the books of the all-conquering British track team, looks like the best bet.
“Callum is incredibly strong – incredibly strong as an athlete. A lot of the young guys coming through the academy have been selected because they have exceptional qualities. I think Steve Peters once said to be on the British team you have to be somewhere between extraordinary and phenomenal,” she says.
“Because so many people want to do it and the level of expectation is so high, they don’t choose you unless you are going to win medals or they think you are going to win medals in the future – gold ones. So the sheer fact that people like that train on the team, working towards wearing the Team GB jersey, shows they have what it takes.
“It might not happen straight away. People forget that it takes a good seven years to work up to that peak performance. It doesn’t happen in a couple of years’ training. It takes time and preparation. But Callum has all the potential required to be the next Chris Hoy.”