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Proud parents welcome Olympic hero Wendy home

By Brendan McDaid

Northern Ireland Olympic hero Wendy Houvenaghel has spoken of the moment she realised she had scooped a silver medal in Beijing.

Ms Houvenaghel spent her first evening back home relaxing with her parents in her native village of Upperlands, Co Londonderry.

The medal-winning cyclist was met by proud mum and dad Philip and May McLean when she flew into Belfast International yesterday before receiving a hero's welcome.

A big party is now being planned for tomorrow night to celebrate her success in the final of the women's 3,000 metre individual cycling race at the Laoshan Velodrome in Beijing last month.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Wendy recalled her initial thoughts on reaching the finish line.

“It was an amazing moment,” she said.

“It is what I spent all that time focusing on — getting on the podium — and for that to come true, to become a reality, it was very satisfying and a great privilege.

“Ever since the world championships finished in March in Manchester I had one week off and have been training for the Olympics since April, really. It has been a long couple of years of cycling; there have been ups and downs so I am glad to come through and get a good medal.”

The silver gong was on display for all to see when Wendy arrived home for a week-long break.

She added: “I've brought my medal back home to show everybody and the reception has been great so far.

“I've been made to feel very welcome. I'm looking forward to getting a wee bit of normality back and catching up with people.”

May McLean and her husband Philip watched their daughter’s bid to become the first person from Northern Ireland to strike gold at the Olympics since Mary Peters in 1972.

Although she fell just short in the final, Wendy said she was delighted at winning the silver medal just six years after taking up the sport.

Wendy (34), who now lives in Cornwall with her English husband Ian, is an associate in a dental practice in Newquay.

But she went into cycling full-time in 2006 in her bid to do well at the Olympics.

Commenting on her experience at the Beijing Olympics she said: “It was surreal. I really wanted to focus on myself and the competition and didn't allow the surroundings to distract me too much.

“I concentrated on focusing on my event and didn't become complacent.

“I settled in very well and the apartments were great and quite near to everything."

Speaking about the actual final she added: “The crowd were very encouraging.

“There was a small contingent of supporters there at the velodrome.

“There had been some issue with the tickets so there was a smaller crowd than normally, but it was great.”

A former pupil of Rainey Endowed school in Magherafelt, Wendy only took up cycling full-time in 2006 in a bid to be successful at the Olympics.

The Co Derry woman now plans to spend her week off relaxing and catching up with family and friends.

She is unlikely to be spotted zooming through the local countryside on two wheels during that time.

“My legs are going to have a rest,” she said. |“I'm really looking forward to the welcome home party and I am grateful for everyone who has gone to the trouble to arrange this for me.”

Before Wendy’s success, boxer Wayne McCullough was the last Olympic medal winner from Northern Ireland in an individual sport, when he picked up silver for Ireland in Barcelona in 1992.

Belfast Telegraph


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