'Cycling wasn't so cool when I started'
As she gears up for her second Olympics, Laura Trott tells Abi Jackson how discovering a passion for cycling was the ideal antidote to her schoolgirl woes ... and why she hopes to inspire others to fall in love with sport
With the countdown for Rio well and truly on, mention of the "London Olympics legacy" has been cropping up again.
Perhaps few feel that legacy as keenly as Laura Trott, whose life really did change through the course of the 2012 Games, taking her from promising young hopeful to double Olympic gold medallist, poster girl and celebrity cyclist - all at the tender age of 20.
This time around, she's a little more prepared for what's in store.
"I'm super excited," she says. "Honestly, I can't believe this is my second Olympics. London happened so fast, like I barely got time to breathe. One minute it was 2010, I was a junior, the next minute I'm in Team GB and all of a sudden I'm world champion and going to the Olympics. It was just like, 'oh my God!'
"This time I got four years to prepare, and the chance to look back at London and see what I did there and what I could do better," adds Trott, who scooped golds for the women's team pursuit alongside teammates Dani King and Joanna Rowsell, setting a new world record in the process, and the omnium event two days later.
"It's mad this is my second one. I'm so excited to get out there and compete for my country again."
That's not to say she'll be any less nervous this time round.
"When it comes to racing, I always get nervous," the Essex-born 24-year-old admits. "If I wasn't nervous, it would mean I don't really care about it.
"It's just about keeping focussed, and my parents help keep my feet on the ground and come to all my big events, which I love.
"Seeing them in the crowd takes me back to the first time I stepped on a track and that feeling I had then. It makes me think, 'you know what; I am just that little kid that took up cycling because I absolutely loved it'."
For Trott, cycling is, and always has been, an absolute joy. She's always been sporty, and showed promise on the trampoline, but bikes entered the scene when her mum Glenda took up cycling in a bid to lose weight.
She encouraged her family, including a then eight-year-old Laura and her big sister Emma, to join in.
A year-and-a-half later, Glenda had shed eight-and-a-half stone, and Laura, not even a teenager yet, had discovered her calling, already taking part in weekend races.
She acknowledges her dedication made her a little unusual.
"When I started out, cycling wasn't cool like it is now. People like Sir Bradley Wiggins have made it cool, so a lot more people are getting into it now, but when I used to go to school and say, 'I'm not playing today because I'm going racing', or I wanted to go and ride my bike, it was almost like they'd take the Mickey out of me because that wasn't the done thing," Trott recalls. "The done thing was to sit outside the chip shop or play in the street.
"I just ignored it. I thought, 'you know what, I really enjoy cycling, and that is exactly what I'm going to do'."
Like all youngsters, Trott had her share of angst (she recalls being teased about her "curtains" hairstyle while growing her fringe out during Year Seven), and feels fortunate that at least she had a hobby and a distraction.
"For girls, that age is such a difficult time. You don't feel like you belong, you're trying to get into a little clique or group," she explains.
"Sports can really help you feel more comfortable in yourself; it gives you that confidence and a strong personality. It just makes you feel good and makes you feel strong."
It's this first-hand experience that makes Trott an ideal ambassador for the new Always #LikeAGirl campaign, which aims to encourage and inspire girls to embrace sports. She says she was "shocked" and "sad" when she first saw the results of the Always Confidence & Puberty Survey, which reveals that more than half of girls (64%) quit sports by the time they reach the end of puberty.
It also found 80% feel they 'don't belong' in sport, and 61% wish there were more female sporting role models.
"I guess that's what I'm here to do. I want to try and improve that, and inspire girls to do sports more."
Sometimes it's just about "giving it a go", she adds, and remembering that it's not all about being good at sports, but enjoying them, and reaping the benefits, whether that's looking after your health, growing in self-confidence, or spending time with friends.
Of course, Trott knows the importance of embracing downtime, too.
"I love being at home," she says, when asked how she likes to de-stress. "We've got a little cottage out in the countryside, so I like to spend time with my fiance Jason and our two dogs. De-stressing is about doing what makes you feel most comfortable - and for me that's just relaxing on my sofa at home."
The sofa will have to wait for now, as Trott's going to be rather busy over the next few weeks fulfilling other loves - namely cycling her heart out and, hopefully, inspiring another generation of schoolgirls to discover the joys of sport in the process.