On the final day of track cycling Laura Kenny overcame the self-doubt that left her contemplating the end of her career, seizing England’s first velodrome gold of these Games in the women’s 10km scratch race.
The victory marked the breakthrough she had been searching for after a difficult week, which had yielded only a bronze medal in the team pursuit. Kenny had been self-critical in her interviews afterwards, jokingly describing her cycling as “going terribly” and calling herself the weak link in the team. She was a long way from the medals in Sunday’s points race, finishing 13th.
She overcame all that frustration by giving an unforgettable demonstration of her resilience, sweeping past Scotland’s Neah Evans and holding on to win. She later revealed that she had taken her defeats even more harshly than she had let on: “I can’t believe it. Honestly, I said to Jase [Kenny], ‘I think this is going to be my last race’,” she said in an interview with the BBC.
“I watched Adam Peaty and I completely reflect[ed] on his interview and I thought: ‘That’s me all over. I’ve lost the spark, training doesn’t come that easy. Every day I’m like, ‘Ah, here we go again.’ I’ve been through three Olympic cycles now. To keep picking yourself up after this whole year has just, honestly, been a nightmare. I have absolutely just lost motivation.”
“Then last night I was messaging my new coach, Len, and I was like, ‘No! I’m not giving up on this. I have one more roll of the dice. Please, just help me.’ Honestly, it could not have been better set up if I tried.” The year since Kenny won her fifth Olympic gold in Tokyo has been extremely difficult. She suffered a miscarriage last November, then in January had an ectopic pregnancy, which led to her being rushed to A&E for emergency surgery.
Throughout those trials, on and off the track, she has been extremely open about her state of mind. As she digested the gold medal, she was similarly honest, referencing Matt Walls’s terrifying crash on Sunday, which left him hospitalised, as a source of further doubt.
“You see [Matt] Walls, he crashed like that. It really makes you think: ‘What am I doing?’ I have been so lucky my whole career. I have had one broken shoulder and one broken arm,” she said. “You see something like that … I messaged Monica [Greenwood, British Cycling’s outgoing women’s endurance podium coach] straight away and I was like: ‘I’m having a serious confidence crisis.’ I just didn’t want to be on the track. And whenever I feel like that, I race badly. And that’s what happened yesterday. Whereas today I was so fired up. I kept saying to myself in the toilet, ‘I can do this’.”
This is the 30-year-old’s first Commonwealth Games gold medal since 2014. Michaela Drummond of New Zealand and Maggie Coles-Lyster of Canada took silver and bronze respectively.