Members of the Welwyn Wheelers cycling club will be setting their alarms early this week to be sure to catch Laura Kenny’s efforts to smash Olympic records and add three more gold medals to her collection.
Kenny trained at the Hertfordshire club from about the age of nine, with her older sister Emma. The girls took up cycling when their mother decided the sport would be a good way for her to lose weight.
“Laura was very competitive from a young age. She had a winning mentality from day one, plus the drive and focus to make the transition from a good youth cyclist to an elite athlete,” Andrew Brown, the club’s chair and a member for 25 years, told the Observer. “We’re incredibly proud of Laura, but we’re proud of everyone who’s gone through the club and found success.”
Remarkably, the Welwyn Wheelers have produced not one, but three Olympic cyclists competing in Tokyo: Ryan Owens and Ethan Vernon were also youth riders at the club.
Kenny, 29, who won two gold medals at London in 2012 and two more at Rio in 2016, has a chance of adding three more medals to her tally at this Games, in the omnium, madison and team pursuit events. Already Britain’s most successful female Olympian, if she triumphs in all three events she could beat her husband Jason’s joint record, with Sir Chris Hoy, of six golds and one silver to become the country’s most successful Olympian ever. (Jason is competing in the team sprint, match sprint and keirin.)
She won her previous golds as Laura Trott, but changed her name when she married Jason Kenny five years ago. Their son Albie was born in 2017, the same year his parents were both appointed CBEs for services to cycling. Laura Kenny is among a growing number of world-class female athletes who are also mothers.
Last year, she broke her shoulder and then her arm, injuries which led her to contemplate giving up professional cycling. But the year-long delay to the Tokyo Olympics because of the Covid pandemic gave her body and competitive spirit time to recover. “I had the time to get myself back in the right headspace,” she said earlier this year.
“Competitive cycling is intensive and gruelling,” said Brown. “There is enormous stress – Laura is sick almost every time before an event. And there are huge sacrifices. You have little time to see friends and family. I’m sure Laura doesn’t see as much of Albie as she’d like to.”
Albie is at home with his grandparents at the family’s base while the Kennys are in Tokyo. He is too young to understand the Olympics, but has begun to grasp what his mother does for a living. “He said ‘Mummy, I know what you do at work’. And I said ‘Oh right?’ And he said ‘You ride a bike,’” Kenny said recently.
In Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, where Kenny grew up, the local leisure centre was renamed after her in 2014 and a postbox has been painted gold in her honour. In the leisure centre cafe last week, Kenny Poulton and Barbara Harrison said they would be watching the events in Tokyo.
“I just hope she achieves all her goals, but there’s a bit of competition from the Aussies,” said Poulton. “My fingers will be crossed.”
Harrison, who has cycled across the Himalayas, said: “We’re all cheering her on.”
Robin Newman, principal of the Haileybury Turnford school that Kenny attended, said the former pupil was a role model for today’s students: “We’re all very proud of Laura’s achievements and cannot wait to watch her in Tokyo as she aims to win more Olympic medals.”
During the last two Olympic games, Welwyn Wheelers cyclists have got together at the club’s premises to watch their former members compete, win and ascend the podium. “That’s not such a great idea this time which is a little bit sad,” said Brown. “But I’ve no doubt that most of the club will be glued to the telly. It’s a big week ahead.”