Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

No wonder Wendy feels punctured by Team GB decision

It's not about the winning - it's about the taking part. Or in the case of Upperlands cycling star Wendy Houvenaghel, the not taking part.

The 37-year-old, who won silver in the individual pursuit in Beijing, was told only 30 minutes before the team pursuit race in London that she would not be competing. She says she had tried to change coach Shane Sutton's mind but he was adamant.

"I had to accept it. I left the building and with it left behind Northern Ireland's next Olympic gold medal."

Worse, she suggests that after the team to which she had contributed so much had gone on to win gold, the trio who did compete were not exactly tripping over themselves to console her.

"The other girls said nothing to me - I find it disappointing. I find it juvenile. I would have expected better of people who are now Olympic champions."

True, team-mate Joanna Rowsell did express some sympathy in an interview.

Despite Wendy's obvious and understandable dismay at having been told at the last minute she would not be competing, Ms Rowsell described how the Co Derry woman had hugged her team-mates before the race and wished them well.

Wendy, in other words, had acted like a true sportswoman and risen above what was surely the most awful disappointment any athlete could face.

She had devoted the last four years of her life working up to that final. With half an hour to go, she was told it had all been for nothing. There is surely something seriously wrong there.

No place on the final team. No medal to mark her vital contribution to their golden success.

In the men's final all four team members compete so the same situation does not arise. There is a sound argument that rules should be changed so that the fourth woman in the gold-winning female team should also get her award.

So where was Team GB in all this? That's the big question. Or is London 2012 more about the winners than about those taking part?

Sport is as much about taking the knockdowns and picking yourself up again as it is about toasting victory. All competitors accept that. In this instance however, there is a particularly brutal twist in being barred - at the very last minute - from even getting a chance to go for that gold you've worked long years to bring home.

Every competitor will understand that.

Most especially, you would think, those team-mates of Wendy's who could equally have been left behind should understand that. All the more surprising then that when they took the medal she helped them win, they didn't immediately rally round to make sure she was included in the glory.

(Is this a particularly female thing - would men have been more generous?)

Team GB's cycling's performance director makes the point that tough decisions have to be made.

"Unfortunately, in a squad there are always going to be people who miss out - that comes with the territory, everyone knows the score." But "miss out" is a bit of an understatement in this instance.

Wendy Houvenaghel is, of course, our girl. We all feel for her.

Her family are extremely popular in the Upperlands area. The support of politicians from all parties (many of whom describe themselves as friends of her parents) says a lot about the family. But the injustice here isn't about the local girl or this part of the world missing out on another medal.

It's about any dedicated athlete being crushed in such a cruel, last-minute way without seemingly a whole lot of concern, support or gratitude being shown by the overall bosses of the national team to which she belongs.

You can't take away from the achievement of the trio who climbed on the podium to take the top prize. The glow from their gold is not diminished.

It just doesn't reflect terribly well on Team GB.

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