Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: No way to treat our silver lady Wendy Houvenaghel

Wendy Houvenaghel walked out of the Velodrome and away from her Olympic dream at around 4.50pm on Saturday afternoon.

She had completed her warm-up and sat patiently in the Team GB pen only to receive word from a coach that she would not be required for the Team Pursuit final.

Minutes later, having put her kit bag over her shoulders, she hugged Joanna Rowsell, waved good luck wishes to Dani King and Laura Trott and was gone. It was a desperate, undeserving way for a Northern Ireland sporting hero to leave the scene of what should have been her greatest triumph.

Almost an hour and a half passed by before Rowsell, King and Trott whizzed around the track in breathtaking fashion, breaking their third world record in two days, to claim an outstanding gold medal in what has become a successful cycling competition for the hosts.

Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney was celebrating amongst a frenzied crowd high on gold. Amid all the hooping and hollering, Houvenaghel was forgotten because she had not been given a ticket to ride.

Any Team Pursuit squad is made up of four, but only those who compete are entitled to a medal.

Wendy was not given the chance and this despite suggestions that in training her split times had been as fast or faster than other team members.

There's an argument that she should have picked up a medal even though she didn't ride, just like squad players who never stamp a stud on a football pitch yet claim Champions League gongs, though there appears little debate that she was correct to think she would take part at some stage in the competition.

Not out of pity or sentiment, but on merit.

Agreed, Rowsell — who suffers from alopecia areatu, a condition resulting in hair loss — King and Trott performed heroics in the qualifying, semi-finals and final, almost lapping an outclassed USA in the 3000m decider but Wendy was just as capable.

Maybe at 37 the Northern Ireland woman's face simply didn't fit the image the British cycling team are trying to project given that the girls who did ride so stunningly well are a lot younger at 23, 21 and 20 respectively.

It's a ruthless business is sport, but on Saturday at the Velodrome it felt a touch unfair to me.

It didn't make it any easier for Houvenaghel, as genuine and warm a lady as you could wish to meet, that this had happened four months before at the Track Cycling World Championships in Melbourne.

Then the Ulster woman, a multiple World Champion and Olympic silver medallist from Beijing, threatened to quit the sport after being left out of the final day's action with Rowsell, King and Trott once again victorious.

Believing her London 2012 hopes hung in the balance, Wendy's mood dipped so badly she considered flying home before the Individual Pursuit event but, following second thoughts, she stayed and actually won silver on her own.

At the time Houvenaghel said: “I was completely devastated. I was fully anticipating coming in for the final and was led to believe that I would be taking part. However, that didn't materialise. My instant reaction was quite irrational in that I just wanted to go home and think about my future.”

Houvenaghel regrouped with Head coach Shane Sutton and women's endurance coach Paul Manning assuring her that she remained a vital member of the team. Wendy was given that same label after the victory on Saturday night by management and fellow riders.

But sadly, they did not feel she was vital enough to include in any of the races, where, with her experience and form, she would have delivered and not put the gold medal in any doubt.

Wouldn't it have been better seeing four British girls on the podium than three?

What a kick in the teeth to a woman who was at the forefront of the revolution that has unfolded in UK cycling, after taking up the sport relatively late in life and earning her first British call up in 2003. And what crushing disappointment for husband Ian, mum May and father Philip to see their girl treated in such brutal fashion.

She spent time with her husband yesterday, who she left at home in Cornwall while she trained in Manchester for the Olympics, and was expected to speak today about events on Saturday and her future, which may include a World Championships Road Time Trial in September, retirement and a return to dentistry, which was her occupation before she got on her bike.

Founder of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin said: “The important thing in the Olympics is not winning but taking part.”

Wendy Houvenaghel could have done both on Saturday but got to do neither.

Belfast Telegraph


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