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Jason Kenny: Back to the track after a year away

Joseph Delves
24 Oct 2017

Jason Kenny returns to target Tokyo 2020 Olympics in campaign that could leave him Britain's most decorated Olympian

Despite never publicly announcing his retirement track racer Jason Kenny had decided to quit the sport following the Rio Olympics last year. Having left the games with gold medals in the sprint, team sprint, and keirin events it would have been a perfect end to an outstanding career that has seen the sprinter become one of Britain's most successful Olympians.

‘Slowly but surely I’d just had enough,’ he told Cyclist. ‘I’d been doing it for so long. I didn’t realise at the time, but I’d never really taken a break.

'In over a decade at the most I’d had a couple of weeks off, and even then I was still thinking about training. I saw through the Olympic cycle because I’d already put the work in.

'Leading up to the games I’d convinced myself this would be my last Olympics. I was happy to see it through, but then I wanted to walk away and just be normal for a bit.’

Possessing an uncanny ability to lie low before hitting peak form at crunch events Kenny’s unrelenting workload had flattened his enthusiasm, leading him to call time on his career, while choosing not to announce his plans was a characteristic move for a rider who prefers to let his riding speak for him.

‘After the games I totally switched off and didn't look back,’ he said while supporting the launch of Wiggle's new section online, where it will stock the leading gymwear brands. You can see more at: wiggle.com/gym.

Leaving behind a superlative legacy, for the past year normal life seemed to be working well. In September 2016 Kenny married fellow track cyclist Laura Trott, and in February 2017 the couple announced they were expecting their first child.

‘I started considering other careers. All my experience is in elite level performance, so I was looking at that.

'It’s a difficult world to get into on the other side of the fence. When you’re a rider you’re judged purely on your performance.

'In a way it’s easy. You turn up, go fast, and if you’re quick enough you win. When you’re trying to sell yourself as a coach who knows what he’s talking about that’s more difficult.

'It was a funny peep into that side of things.’

Allowing himself time to figure out what to do next Kenny told us he enjoyed his time away from racing. Still almost by accident he found himself back riding in the velodrome.

‘There was an opportunity to get back on the track and do some filming, so I jumped at it having been off for such a long time.

'I really enjoyed it; it made me think, alright, let’s give it a bit of a nudge and give it a go.’

A methodical worker, even having decided in his own mind to quit competitive cycling Kenny had kept himself in shape.

‘I like training and I like creating programmes. I was still riding. I started writing hypothetical training programmes of what I’d like to do if I came back and before I knew it I was going through them and enjoying it.

'After the year away I just drifted back in.’

Kenny expanded on whar it's like to be fully submerged in the pro cyclist bubble. ‘Riding full time you’re either at an event and going really well or you’re training and feel quite flat.

'You never get back to this natural state. You get physically squished by training. I felt like I’d changed over the years. I didn’t feel like I did as a teenager. I thought that was just getting old.

'After a year off the bike I went and did a random lab session and I felt exactly the same as I did at sixteen. I felt like myself again.

‘When I came back to the track and was trying to do some efforts I found it was really quite difficult. It was a new one for me to be suffering so much and going so badly. That was a challenge.

'Building it up over years you take for granted the amount of training volume. Training everyday is a difficult thing to do. Dealing with the cumulative fatigue was something I underestimated, although I’m getting on top of it now.’

Having rediscovered his love of training and riding a return aimed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics seemed an obvious choice, despite the huge amount of work required.

‘I felt if you never try you’ll never know. In a way it’s a commitment, but in another way it isn’t. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I haven’t lost anything. I’ll just be another year older. It’s not the end of the world.

'I’m in quite a lucky position: I can have a go and there’s no pressure. I can just see what I can get out of it.’

While athletes on the British Cycling Performance Programme are notoriously only as good as their last result, no coach in their right mind would be likely to turn Kenny away.

Famously structured in his own approach to training his unrelenting hard work has made him one of the world’s most successful track cyclists.

‘When you’re building towards a goal like the Olympics, you always wish you had more time. It’s about making the most of the time you’ve got.

'That’s what I enjoy doing: making sure I’m optimising every second. It’s the same principle whether you’re three years out or three minutes out.

'After the race the programme stops and it’s like the world ends. Everything you do is up to that one point. I quite like that.’

Still this time around Kenny will have fresh demands on those valuable seconds. Since his last Olympic campaign he’s become a father for the first time, an event he describes as having ‘changed everything’.

‘It’s amazing. You can’t explain it. Obviously It’s difficult with training. When you’ve had three hours sleep you realise how important sleep is to recovery.

'I’d do a day’s training, have a bad night and the next day feel like I hadn’t recovered at all. I just have to accept that some days are going to be bad and some days are going to be good.

'That’s new, because I’m used to being able to plan every day. Now I just have to be flexible.’

As such an established talent Jason has a little more leeway in allowing himself to balance home and work.

Having enlisted the help of their extended families Laura and he intend to plan their schedules around child care while still racing at the highest level.

Fatherhood hasn’t been the only change either. Both clearly grounded individuals, as a couple the pair are now increasingly famous outside of the cycling world, with media interest in their lives away from the bike.

It’s something Kenny seems reticent about.

‘We’re not mad famous. It’s a good level. We can still go shopping. Sports fans recognise us and that’s nice. It’s just one of those things that comes with it.

'We just accept it and try and enjoy it. When it first happens, and you’re having your picture taken and you don’t really want it taken, it can be quite stressful, all the cameras clicking away.

'But then you learn to relax and enjoy it. There’s plenty of good things that come with it.’

The media attention isn’t likely to die back. With the same number of gold medals as Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Bradley Wiggins, at the next olympics Kenny will be one gold away from equalling Sir Chris Hoy and becoming Britain’s most successful Olympian.

Yet the pursuit of medals doesn’t seem to be massive motivating factor for the quietly spoken rider.

‘At British Cycling we were always taught to concentrate on performance goals and not outcome goals. Just concentrate on being at the best place you can possibly be when it matters and not stress about winning, or particular times, things that can be affected by other factors.

'The way I’ve always worked is to get myself to the best level I can be at, and let the results take care of themselves. It takes the pressure off.’

In keeping with this pragmatic approach neither does the possibility of a knighthood appear to much animate Kenny.

With the ranks of Britain's top cyclists now all sporting titles he must surely be due one. Yet his instant reaction is that adding a Sir in front of his name won’t make his life any easier at the next competition.

‘These little extra things are nice, but it doesn’t make any difference to what happens on track. No one cares what your name is, how old you are, how much you’ve won.

'When you go racing the best man will win.’

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