Belfast Telegraph

Wendy Houvenaghel: I’m retiring from cycling and have no regrets

BY STEVEN BEACOM

Northern Ireland's greatest female cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel has ridden her final race after announcing that she is retiring from the sport with ‘no regrets'.

The 39-year-old from Upperlands in County Londonderry has been forced to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games due to injury and with that has decided to end her successful career on the track and the road.

Houvenaghel won three World Championships competing for Great Britain in the Team Pursuit event and an Olympic silver medal in 2008 in Beijing in the Individual Pursuit. She was also a multiple European and National Champion.

In 2012 she was primed for Team Pursuit glory at the London Olympics only to be controversially left out of all the races in the Velodrome by Team GB cycling officials, shattering her dream of bringing a gold medal home to Northern Ireland.

It was an experience that hit her hard but she bounced back to be selected for the GB national squad a few months later and this year was relishing the prospect of attempting to make the podium in Northern Ireland colours at the Commonwealth Games, only for injury to strike.

Reluctantly she has withdrawn from the Road Time Trial event in Glasgow and opted to call it a day.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Houvenaghel said: “I'm disappointed at having to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games. I was really looking forward to competing again at the Games, having represented Northern Ireland in the past.

“There is always a good atmosphere amongst the team and it is unfortunate that I won't be involved.”

Wendy, who won silver in Delhi four years ago in the 3000m Individual Pursuit, continued: “I sustained a lower back injury recently and it has compromised my training.

“I'm not able to train properly so therefore my performance levels have been affected and I don't want to take to the start line if I know I won't be performing to the best of my ability and doing myself justice while riding for Northern Ireland.

“As a result of this injury the time is right to announce my retirement from cycling. It was a difficult decision to make but it is the right one.

“The past decade of my life has been dedicated to cycling and for the most part it has been extremely rewarding.

“I've always dedicated myself 100% to being a professional sportsperson and I am immensely proud of my consistently high achievements from the beginning and extremely grateful to all the people who have helped me along that journey.

“I owe a big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past 10 years; my family, my friends, my fans and my sponsors.

“Every athlete has a window of opportunity and I feel I made the most of every opportunity that I have been given. I've been fortunate enough to enjoy some great times and great results.

“I didn't think when I started out that I would do as well as I did. As I retire I have no regrets. I have done everything that I could.”

Houvenaghel, who lives in Cornwall with husband Ian, was a late arrival into the world of cycling. She took up the sport aged 27, soon realising that she had a natural talent.

At the time she was serving in the Dental Branch of the Royal Air Force, having become a Squadron Leader.

It wasn't long before she was selected by the British team and fast tracked on to the Olympic Podium Programme, becoming a professional cyclist in 2006. National and international honours would follow.

While Wendy classes her highs in the sport as the Olympic silver in Beijing and the three World Championship successes, it is no surprise to learn that her worst moment came two years ago.

“The low would obviously be what happened during the 2012 London Olympics. I was part of a gold medal winning team and didn't have my opportunity to compete in one of three races which would have allowed me to win a medal,” she says.

“I felt I could have contributed at the time to the success as my training times were very strong but it wasn't to be. I have moved on from that and now that I have retired from cycling I'm looking forward to new challenges.”

Wendy will still take the bike out for relaxing spins around the Cornwall coast, but having worked part-time as a dentist, she intends on sinking her teeth into the profession on a full-time basis.

“I enjoy dentistry. It is a profession where, as a woman in my thirties, I’ll be treated as an equal,” she says.

Houvenaghel will also be lending support to the Northern Ireland team at the Commonwealth Games from afar.

“While I won't be competing, I'll still be cheering on Northern Ireland in Glasgow.

“I'll be watching on TV and it'll be interesting for me to view other sports this time. I wish every member of our team success and hope they will win lots of medals.”

She deserves to go down in history as one of our greats

My View by Steven Beacom

Mention the name Wendy Houvenaghel and to most sports followers, the 2012 London Olympics will spring to mind.

Hardly surprising really... it was front and back page news at the time when the County Londonderry woman, despite sensational training times and an impressive track record, was surprisingly omitted for all three Team Pursuit races at the Velodrome by Team GB cycling officials.

The younger Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell were chosen to ride every time and raced to stardom and gold in the final in a world record time on what became known as ‘Super Saturday' at the Games.

Houvenaghel may have played a vital role in the build-up and all the indications were that she would be involved in the semi-final or final, but she was discarded in a painful and undignified manner.

This was not like an unused German substitute in the recent World Cup final who took home the same reward as, say, frontline stars such as Toni Kroos or Thomas Muller.

Under the rules of the competition, because Wendy did not ride she was unable to join her jubilant team-mates on the Olympic podium.

By then, with their celebrations in full flow, the distraught Ulster woman had walked out of the Velodrome, devastated at her treatment, having given years of loyal service to the GB vest.

Speaking to this newspaper in the aftermath an emotional and furious Houvenaghel, keen to give her side of the story, savaged the coaches who made the decision and slammed the attitude of her team-mates.

It was the most hard hitting interview of the Games. Memorable too.

But on the day she announces her retirement from the sport, it should not be all that 39-year-old Wendy Houvenaghel is remembered for.

This is a woman who, bucking the modern trend, didn't take up cycling until she was 27 and then proceeded to win national championships on the track and the road, European Championships plus silver medals at the 2008 Olympics and 2010 Commonwealth Games.

She also savoured three World Championship triumphs in 2008, 2009 and 2011 in the Team Pursuit discipline.

That's three World Championships.

How many Northern Ireland sportsmen or women can say they have achieved that? Not many... is the right answer.

Why she has not received an award in the Queen's honours list is a mystery.

No Royal approval yet, but as she calls it quits, we should shine a light on all her medals and successes.

Wendy (below) has not just been one of our brightest sporting stars in the past decade, she is also a thoroughly decent and helpful lady.

It's a pity she won't be competing in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games due to injury, but being able to quit with ‘no regrets' is a good place for any retiring sportsperson to be.

While recalling her glory on the track, it should also be noted how, along with another World Champion from these parts, Newtownards native Martyn Irvine, who will compete in Glasgow, she helped spread the gospel of cycling in Northern Ireland.

Wendy and Martyn's success have inspired others to get on their bike. And having the Giro d'Italia here earlier this year took the sport's popularity to even greater heights.

Surely building a Velodrome in Northern Ireland, an idea backed by Wendy and Martyn, for future generations is the next step.

Houvenaghel factfile

NAME: Wendy Houvenaghel

DATE OF BIRTH: 27/11/74

FROM: Upperlands, County Londonderry

HONOURS: National 3km Pursuit Championship (2005/2006/2010)

UCI World Cup 3 km Individual Pursuit Champion (2005/6, 2006/7, 2009/10)

National Time Trial Circuit Champion (2003/2007/2011/2012)

Olympic Silver medal Individual Pursuit (2008)

UCI World Track Champion Team Pursuit (2008/2009/2011)

Commonwealth Games Silver medal 3000m Individual Pursuit (2010)

European Champion Team Pursuit (2010/2011)

Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year (2008)

Wendy Houvenaghel: My career's been more than I ever imagined

Northern Ireland's greatest female cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel has ridden her final race after announcing that she is retiring from the sport with 'no regrets'. The 39-year-old from Upperlands in County Londonderry has been forced to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games due to injury and with that has decided to end her successful career on the track and the road.

Houvenaghel won three World Championships competing for Great Britain in the Team Pursuit event and an Olympic silver medal in 2008 in Beijing in the Individual Pursuit. She was also a multiple European and National Champion.

In 2012 she was primed for Team Pursuit glory at the London Olympics only to be controversially left out of all the races in the Velodrome by Team GB cycling officials, shattering her dream of bringing a gold medal home to Northern Ireland.

It was an experience that hit her hard but she bounced back to be selected for the GB national squad a few months later and this year was relishing the prospect of attempting to make the podium in Northern Ireland colours at the Commonwealth Games, only for injury to strike.

Reluctantly she has withdrawn from the Road Time Trial event in Glasgow and opted to call it a day.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Houvenaghel said: "I'm disappointed at having to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games. I was really looking forward to competing again at the Games, having represented Northern Ireland in the past.

"There is always a good atmosphere amongst the team and it is unfortunate that I won't be involved."

Wendy, who won silver in Delhi four years ago in the 3000m Individual Pursuit, continued: "I sustained a lower back injury recently and it has compromised my training.

"I'm not able to train properly so therefore my performance levels have been affected and I don't want to take to the start line if I know I won't be performing to the best of my ability and doing myself justice while riding for Northern Ireland.

"As a result of this injury the time is right to announce my retirement from cycling. It was a difficult decision to make but it is the right one.

"The past decade of my life has been dedicated to cycling and for the most part it has been extremely rewarding.

"I've always dedicated myself 100% to being a professional sportsperson and I am immensely proud of my consistently high achievements from the beginning and extremely grateful to all the people who have helped me along that journey.

"I owe a big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past 10 years; my family, my friends, my fans and my sponsors.

"Every athlete has a window of opportunity and I feel I made the most of every opportunity that I have been given. I've been fortunate enough to enjoy some great times and great results.

"I didn't think when I started out that I would do as well as I did. As I retire I have no regrets. I have done everything that I could."

Houvenaghel, who lives in Cornwall with husband Ian, was a late arrival into the world of cycling. She took up the sport aged 27, soon realising that she had a natural talent.

At the time she was serving in the Dental Branch of the Royal Air Force, having become a Squadron Leader.

It wasn't long before she was selected by the British team and fast tracked on to the Olympic Podium Programme, becoming a professional cyclist in 2006. National and international honours would follow.

While Wendy classes her highs in the sport as the Olympic silver in Beijing and the three World Championship successes, it is no surprise to learn that her worst moment came two years ago.

"The low would obviously be what happened during the 2012 London Olympics. I was part of a gold medal winning team and didn't have my opportunity to compete in one of three races which would have allowed me to win a medal," she says.

"I felt I could have contributed at the time to the success as my training times were very strong but it wasn't to be. I have moved on from that and now that I have retired from cycling I'm looking forward to new challenges."

Wendy will still take the bike out for relaxing spins around the Cornwall coast, but having worked part-time as a dentist, she intends on sinking her teeth into the profession on a full-time basis.

"I enjoy dentistry. It is a profession where, as a woman in my thirties, I'll be treated as an equal," she says.

Houvenaghel will also be lending support to the Northern Ireland team at the Commonwealth Games from afar.

"While I won't be competing, I'll still be cheering on Northern Ireland in Glasgow.

"I'll be watching on TV and it'll be interesting for me to view other sports this time. I wish every member of our team success and hope they will win lots of medals."

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