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Wendy Houvenaghel: I'm getting life back on track

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Wendy Houvenaghel has her sights set on competing in France and Holland this autumn after her Olympic Games heartbreak

Wendy Houvenaghel has her sights set on competing in France and Holland this autumn after her Olympic Games heartbreak

©William Cherry/Presseye

Wendy Houvenaghel has her sights set on competing in France and Holland this autumn after her Olympic Games heartbreak

Wendy Houvenaghel is smiling again. The last time I interviewed the Northern Ireland cyclist at Olympic Park she cut an emotionally scarred figure, speaking of her devastation, hurt and sense of betrayal after not being allowed to ride for a gold medal at the Olympics.

Four weeks on the 37-year-old from Upperlands, in Co. Londonderry says she is getting her life back on track and is now relishing the future.

Last month you will recall amid all the magical, uplifting stories of the London 2012 Games was the tortured tale of Houvenaghel, who looked destined to become our golden girl at the Olympics.

Chosen in Team GB's squad of four, which also included Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Roswell, for the Team Pursuit event, Wendy was in the form of her life.

Despite going quicker than some of her team-mates in training, however, the multiple World Champion and silver medallist from the Beijing Olympics was not selected to race in the heats, semi-final or the final.

In a packed Velodrome, just hours before Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah won at the Olympic Stadium on ‘Super Saturday', Trott, King and Roswell struck gold, breaking their own world record in the process, but with rules stating that only those who raced earned medals, Houvenaghel was left with nothing but an empty feeling.

Two days after the Team Pursuit final, Houvenaghel, in an emotional, hard hitting interview with the Belfast Telegraph, criticised Team GB cycling coach Shane Sutton and revealed that her three team-mates didn't speak to her when they saw her packing her bags in their shared apartment that morning in the Olympic Village.

Earlier this week at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, Wendy admitted there had still been no contact.

“At the moment I haven't heard anything from the staff or the athletes,” she said.

Asked if that surprised her, she paused then replied: “Not really. I think everyone is really busy dealing with the post Olympics opportunities and we have all got to step back from the Games and re-assess where we all are. I think the staff and my team-mates will all be getting their lives back after London and moving forward themselves.”

So would Wendy like to see and talk to King, Roswell and Trott again?

“Of course, they are my team-mates. We have spent many years working together and I'm sure there will come a time when we will be back in touch and in the end everything will be fine.”

A long held motto in Houvenaghel's life is “No regrets”.

Given that her comments sparked a huge debate in Northern Ireland and were the talk of the cycling world, I wonder if she now had any regrets about that explosive interview.

She says: “I perhaps spoke a little bit too emotionally when we had our last interview and perhaps I should have acknowledged the great achievement of my team-mates who thoroughly deserved to win.

“Maybe I should have taken a step back from the situation rather than solely concentrating on how I was feeling.

“After speaking about the position I found myself in though the response I received from the public was incredible. I've had a lot of support which I've been incredibly gratefully to receive.

“To put things into perspective sport raises a lot of emotion, not just in athletes themselves, but in those watching and observing. It happened and I have to move forward now, put it all behind me and get my life back on track again.”

She has already started doing that. After a holiday in Spain with her husband, Houvenaghel returned to competitive cycling for the first time since the Olympics on Sunday winning the 21 mile British Time Trial Championship in stunning fashion.

Next up is an International Time Trial in France and if she shines in that Wendy is interested in competing for Team GB in the World Championships in Holland on September 18.

“Even though I was nervous it was great to be able to take to the start line,” she said.

“I had limited preparation, but thankfully the race went well. I have a background in Time Trialling and have been successful in it over the last six years. It's something I enjoy and Sunday was an opportunity to blow away a few cobwebs.

“The Road World Championships come up in the middle of September and I have aspirations to ride in the Time Trial in that competition. I'm in touch with Chris Newton, the women's endurance road based coach, who wants to keep tabs on me after my win at the weekend.

“I have an International Time Trial with big names competing in France which will give me a good idea to see where I'm at. If after that I think I could do well at the World Championship Time Trial, then I'll pursue that avenue.”

Prior to London 2012 Houvenaghel had talked about retiring from the sport this year, to return to dentistry. That remains an option, but so too does a continuation of her cycling career which could include riding for Northern Ireland in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

A decision will be made after she spends a “chilled out and relaxed” Christmas with her family.

“It is very tempting to keep going until the Commonwealth Games because I love riding for Northern Ireland,” she says.

“The Games are in Scotland where Northern Ireland would have plenty of support. Also my performances this year are the best ever. I'm getting better with age and I don't want to call it a day when actually I enjoy the sport and competing at the highest level. I'm good at it and I don't want one setback to have a profound effect on my future in cycling.”

Should she compete in Glasgow, there would be an intriguing prospect of Wendy taking on one of her Olympic team-mates.

“It is possible I could come up against one of the girls. I'd look forward to that challenge,” said Wendy.

So, what about delaying retirement until after the Rio Olympics?

“Never say never, but we have to be realistic and by the time Rio comes around I'll be 41 and performance wise I would never put myself on the start line if I wasn't competitive. If I thought I could win a medal though I’d go for it.”

Factfile

Name: Wendy Houvenaghel

Date of Birth: November 27, 1974

Status: Married to Ian

Schooling: Ampertaine County Primary School in Upperlands and Rainey Endowed Grammar School in Maghera

University: University of Dundee studying dentistry. Qualified to work for RAF.

Career: Wendy took up cycling relatively late in 2002 and was first selected for GB a year later after showing immense promise in national championships. She has enjoyed an excellent career winning an Olympic silver medal in the Individual Pursuit in Beijing 2008. She has also been a Team Pursuit world champion THREE times and a Commonwealth silver medallist with Northern Ireland in 2010. Her biggest disappointment came in London 2012 when she was not selected to ride in the heats, semi-final or final of the Team Pursuit which GB won, meaning she left her home Games without a medal.

Major honours: Olympic silver in 2008 (Individual Pursuit); World Champion in 2008, 2009 and 2011 (Team Pursuit); World Champion runner-up in 2010 (Team Pursuit); World Champion runner-up in 2009, 2010, 2012 (Individual Pursuit); Commonwealth Games silver in 2010 (Individual Pursuit).

Other achievements: National 3 km Pursuit Champion (2005, 2006, 2010); World Cup 3 km Individual Pursuit Champion (2006, 2007, 2010); National Time Trial Champion ( 2007, 2011); European Champion Team Pursuit (2011); World Track Champion, Team Pursuit (2008, 2009, 2011)

Belfast Telegraph


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