Northern Ireland cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel has spoken out about her devastation and sense of betrayal at not being allowed to ride for an Olympic gold medal.
In an emotional, honest, hard-hitting interview, the 37-year-old from Upperlands in Co Londonderry told of her pain when her Olympic dream was “shattered” and revealed how she was snubbed by her team-mates, who did get the chance to ride, winning London 2012 gold medals.
Houvenaghel, a multi-world champion and Olympic silver medallist from Beijing in 2008, entered the Olympics as part of a four-woman team in the Team Pursuit event. There were three rounds, one on Friday and the semi-final and final on Saturday.
In order to qualify for a medal, team members needed to ride at least once, but despite being told before the Olympics that she would be given her chance, Houvenaghel did not see any action as younger team members Joanna Rowsell, Laura Trott and Dani King rode every time, breaking three world records as they raced to gold on Saturday night.
Four months earlier she had been left out of the world championship Team Pursuit final in Melbourne and was so dejected she considered quitting the sport, but continued after being informed she remained a valuable member of the British team and would play a key role in the Olympics.
It was not to be with Shane Sutton, the head coach of British cycling, telling her she was not needed.
A shattered Houvenaghel said: “I have been very loyal to British cycling over the last six years and feel the decision they made was unjustified considering what I had been doing in training.
Houvenaghel, wearing her Team GB uniform and comforted by husband Ian, revealed that after not being selected for the semi-final she thought sure she would make the final as one of the Team GB riders was sick. But then came a crushing blow.
“I warmed up and got ready for the final as I was told to do but then Shane Sutton came up to me and told me I wouldn't be riding. In that 10 second burst from him my Olympic dream was shattered,” said Wendy.
However Dave Brailsford, Team GB cycling performance director, said that he and his team had to “take the personal element out of it, and look at the data and be professional”.
“Unfortunately, in a squad there are always going to be people who miss out — that comes with the territory, everyone knows the score. As long as the decision-making is fair, impartial, and everyone understands the process, it can't be reproached.
“If people don't understand it and it's not quite clear and people think there might be some personal bias involved, then that's an issue.
“But I think when a team steps up and makes six world records on the trot and a gold medal, then I don't think you can argue.”
Houvenaghel's victorious team-mates who she stayed with in an apartment in the athletes' village didn't bother with her either.
“I've heard nothing from them, not even a text to say ‘are you okay?'. I packed my bags in the apartment today, saw my team-mates and nobody spoke to me.”