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Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women No18: Laura Kenny

Maria David Sponsored
18 Mar 2021

The most successful British female Olympian of all time

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days

Words: Maria David

With her double gold for Team GB in the team pursuit and omnium at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, Laura Kenny is the UK’s most decorated female Olympic athlete of all time.

Impressive stuff. Not that those of us in the London and South East cycling community were surprised to see Laura representing the country at the highest level, but it was quite something else to see her on the podium sporting a gold medal to the tones of the National Anthem.

Laura had a difficult beginning to her life, having been born four weeks premature with a collapsed lung and then developing asthma. Despite this, she quickly gravitated towards doing sport at school, which helped her develop breathing control and strengthen her lungs.

Swimming, trampolining and cycling were her main activities – at least until she gave up trampolining after a couple of incidences in which she fainted in mid-air, and became bored of competitive swimming.

That left cycling. Laura and her older sister Emma were able to take inspiration from their mum, Glenda, who had taken up cycling to lose weight, and that helped spur them on.

I remember when Laura and Emma first got into cycle racing. Riding for Hertfordshire-based club Welwyn Wheelers, they both made their mark at the local women’s handicap cycle races at the Milton Keynes Bowl in 2004.

I love racing, and I love winning. I can’t imagine not racing my bike

Even in their early teens people could see that they were good riders. That said, few would have imagined that eight years later Laura would be standing on the top spot of the Olympic podium as the toast of British sport.

As her potential began to reveal itself, Laura was taken in under the auspices of the British Cycling development squad, and it was quickly clear that she was destined for greater success.

Once, when competing in some local races at a cycle circuit in Redbridge in northeast London, Laura chose to compete in the men’s race rather than join in the women’s race.

It was quite an impressive sight to see this 18-year-old in the middle of the peloton with a bunch of men.

Laura raced well on the road, but it was on the track where she truly excelled, and over time we stopped seeing Laura in the local races and started hearing more and more about her track prowess on the national and then the international stage.

It all culminated with perfect timing at the London 2012 Olympics, where Laura became a household name after winning gold in the team pursuit.

You could argue that the result was no surprise, given the strength of the team around her and Laura’s own form leading up to the Olympics. Winning the omnium to become a double gold-medallist, however, was a different story.

The omnium was a new event for women’s track cycling, and Laura had only been selected just months before the Olympics as a replacement for Lizzie Deignan, who was originally earmarked to compete in this event.

So when she won that too, and then repeated her double success four years later in Rio, it truly catapulted her into the stratosphere and cemented her place as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Laura is now targeting further Olympic success this summer in Tokyo. Deferring the Olympics by a year due to coronavirus has actually played into her hands by giving her extra time to prepare after she took a year out due to pregnancy and maternity leave. She is determined to give it her best shot this summer.

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

‘Albie [Laura’s three-year old son] motivates me so much,’ says the 28-year-old. ‘I go away so much and I put so much into training camps. Sometimes I feel as if I almost put him second, but I haven’t sacrificed all that time with him for nothing.’

With the Tokyo Games now just around the corner, assuming they do go ahead this year as planned, Laura and husband Jason – a fellow Olympic gold medallist – are just keen to get out there, even during these times of coronavirus.

‘Jason and I will travel out to Tokyo. That’s our job. We’ve trained for years for this. But our families won’t be coming as we wouldn’t want them out there putting themselves at extra risk.’

Despite the sacrifices she has made and all the successes she has had, Laura does now see herself as a mum first, and enjoys family life with her husband and young Albie in their Cheshire home.

‘Being a mum is the best job in the world. I absolutely love it. I enjoyed my pregnancy until the last couple of weeks, though I was 20kg heavier at the time.’

Laura continued to race until she was three months pregnant and exercised until six weeks from giving birth. She was back on her bike six weeks after giving birth, and resumed serious training when baby Albie was five months old.

Even with her devotion to her family, however, Laura doesn’t see herself giving up racing any time soon. When asked about why she continues to do the sport, her answer was simple: ‘I love racing, and I love winning. I can’t imagine not racing my bike.’

For more from Zwift this International Women's Month, visit here.