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After this week’s painful World Cup exit, Brazil could do with falling in love with some new sports other than football. Luckily, the Rio 2016 Games will present plenty of opportunities to do so. And as Laura Trott, Great Britain’s double Olympic champion in track cycling, told rio2016.com, there’s nothing like a bit of success to get the nation into a new sport.
The British track cycling team won seven of the 10 gold medals available at the London 2012 Games, equalling their haul from Beijing. At Athens 2004, the Brits won two track titles – their best result since 1908. There has been a clear inspirational effect at grassroots level as cycling in Britain has gone from a minority sport to one that has more than 75,000 national federation members. About two million people cycle every week in the UK, one million having taken up the sport since 2009.
“You see so many more people cycling on the roads now, more than than ever before, and also on the tracks,” Trott said. “Britain’s success in Olympic cycling has definitely helped improve conditions for people cycling on the roads. We’ve had new cycle lanes and peoples’ lives in cities are being made safer.”
Trott, who won gold in the team pursuit and omnium events in London, trains at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, which opened in 1994 and includes the velodrome that was used for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. In Rio, work has started on the velodrome in the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca, which will form part of the Olympic Training Centre after the Games. Trott believes this legacy can inspire a similar boost in sports participation in Brazil, although she stressed that people do not have to wait for shiny new facilities to get active.
“For sure, the creation of new facilities gives big boost (to participation). It makes the sports more accessible to people. But in general, it’s so easy to go out on your bike – and you don’t have to spend a lot – and enjoy the outdoors and the fresh air. It’s also very sociable, something you can do with your friends and family.”
Aged just 22, Trott plans to defend her titles in Rio, and is clearly looking forward to it, saying: “I think it will be a great show, it’s going to be massive.” She also knows exactly how much of an advantage the Brazilian athletes will enjoy. “Competing at a home Olympics was unbelievable, way more than I expected. I tried not to get too wrapped up in it and let the occasion get to me. But having the home crowd behind you was amazing – every time I went on the track the buzz was incredible. It definitely helped me win my medals. For sure, the Brazilians will feel the same.”
Trott had a difficult start to life, being born with a collapsed lung and then developing asthma. However, doctors advised her to be active and one thing led to another. “At first it was swimming , because it was good for my breathing. And from that came cycling. If I had not started swimming I would probably not be here. But I never thought I would be a professional cyclist. I just did it for the sheer enjoyment. But when you start to win races, you start to wonder how far you can go.”
It became clear how famous Trott had become when photos appeared in the press of her with her boyfriend Jason Kenny – a three-times Olympic champion in track cycling – watching the volleyball at London 2012. David Beckham and Prince Harry were also in the shots, but it was cycling’s ‘golden couple’ who were the focus of the story.
“It’s good that Olympic athletes and sports get a bigger profile, but having your private life invaded was hard. It was terrible at first – we didn’t expect to be thrown into the limelight. People wanted to know about our personal life. We wanted to go home for a bit, but the press were outside my parents’ house. It was nuts.
“But it was great how the whole country got Olympic fever. You don’t understand until you leave the Athletes’ Village and everyone wants your photo. In the village, you have no contact with the outside world. It’s like being in Big Brother.”