Laura Kenny opens up on hitting breaking point

Ahead of her debut at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Britain's most successful female Olympic athlete talks about her difficult last few months and the significance of returning to the London velodrome ten years later.

By Alessandro Poggi
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

From London to London.

Exactly ten years after making global headlines at the London 2012 Olympics, Laura Kenny returns to the velodrome where she started her journey towards track cycling greatness.

The venue is now part of the Lee Valley VeloPark and is one of the legacies of the 2012 Summer Olympics: that's the place where Britain's most successful female athlete in Olympic history took her first two titles.

In the stands of the London Velodrome a then 20-year-old Laura Trott was also pictured for the first time with future husband Jason Kenny.

"Ten years, I mean, what an absolute whirlwind! I can't believe it's been ten years to start with, but it's just more than I could ever have imagined was ever going to be possible for me," Britain's most successful female athlete in Olympic history said reflecting on her career.

"Everything happened so fast that I just never even processed it. It is my favourite track and I think it is always going to be. I grew up pretty close to this velodrome. So it's always going to feel like, this is my local or home track."

The last decade saw a lot of things happening to the five-time Olympic champion. After marrying fellow gold medallist Jason following their Rio 2016 success, in 2017 she gave birth to their first son Albie. They both went on to win more titles at Tokyo 2020, with Jason retiring after the games and becoming a coach.

But a series of events in the last few months changed Laura's perspective on life and the now 30-year-old even considered quitting the sport.

The team GB rider revealed earlier this year that she suffered a miscarriage at the end of 2021, which was followed by a surgery to remove a fallopian tupe at the beginning of 2022.

“I just felt like nothing was going our way at all. January for me was an absolute tipping point. Like, I was at breaking point," she admitted.

"And I think without Jason, I would have just canned everything like, I'd have just gone, ‘You know what, I can't even cope with doing any of this anymore…”

Laura Kenny found her motivation again thanks to the support of her family, and her love for cycling:

"I grabbed for my safety blanket and decided I needed to ride my bike again. People were probably thinking, 'What on earth is she doing?' But riding is what I’ve done for the last 13 years. It feels like a safe place," she added.

"The obvious thing to do when I felt that sad and that broken was to go out and ride my bike again. It puts lots of things into perspective."

Now Kenny has turned her attentions on the Commonwealth Games, where she is representing England in the team pursuit, scratch race and points race.

"I just feel so relaxed about the whole situation," she said. "I don't know whether it is because I never really thought the Commonwealth Games was going to be a target because of obviously what we were planning, I mean we were planning on having another little one by now.

"I feel like, I'm literally just going to race my bike. And it's always bringing more joy. Like, I'm so excited just to get out in front of the home crowd again because you don't get it that often. And especially in London. I love London!”

You can find the full Q&A with the six-time Olympic medallist below. The text has been edited for clarity purposes.

Laura Kenny (Left) training at the London Velodrome. CREDIT: SWPix
Picture by © SWpix.com (t/a Photography Hub Ltd)

What does it mean to be back in the velodrome in London after the success in 2012 and what does this venue represent for you?

“I'm less nervous this time than I was ten years ago, and it was funny, actually, because I'm staying in an Airbnb away from the village just because obviously I've got my little boy with me this time and I walked in and I was like, 'Wow, I'm having a serious deja-vu.' Like, I've been in this flat before. And then I realised, ‘Of course I have’ because it wasn't until the lady I'm renting off of was like, 'This is the last block that was the Olympic flats.' And I was like, 'Of course it is'. So obviously the deja-vu is that it's the exact same layout as the one that I was in then.

“Today was my first session back on the track and I just love it here, like just everything about it. And I just love the fact that even when I'm walking down the stairs and, it sounds so stupid, but even the smell, it just brings up that memories and it's just... It's always going to be a track that, well, it is my favourite track and I think it is always going to be. I grew up pretty close to this velodrome, so it's always going to feel like, this is my local or home track.”

You are a multiple Olympic and world champion. Are you looking to add more Commonwealth Games titles after winning just one gold from Glasgow back in 2014?

“I don't really know what I'm expecting, going into this race. We haven't had that big a track block, we were focusing more on the Europeans. And obviously because it is a funny gap because we have the Commonwealths and then we have five days and then we go into the Europeans. And so it was a funny lead-in because obviously you can't taper and peak while it is that close together and so we haven't really had that much track time. I mean, literally in the last month I've had three sessions on the track, but you know I feel like before that probably would have worried me and I would have just sat here just thinking: 'Oh man, I am panicked!'.

“But I'm just really excited to go out and race my bike again and maybe yes, I'm sitting here a bit blasé and saying, you know, I want to just go out because I haven't had and I feel like I've got really low expectations and maybe that seems daft because you know people in the outside are going to expect me to cross the finish line first but I feel in a really kind of relaxed place right now. And normally when you're in that, when you think, ‘I'm just going to go out there and do what I do best.’ You end up, you know, performing well. And I hope that's the case.

“I'm not really putting any expectation on myself at all in this competition, to be entirely honest. I'm just glad to be here. I'm now generally just really happy to be back on the London Velodrome. Is that really sad? (laughing)”

Where do you feel that the Commonwealth Games sort of rank in the pantheon of sporting events?

“I mean it's always a funny one because I think for different sports it has different points associated with it. So for us in terms of Olympic qualification and points that we need to ultimately qualify for the Olympics, it doesn't actually rank that highly in terms of like how much the UCI deem it as an event.

“But I think as the UK, the Commonwealth Games is ranked really quite high. I think if you were to go and ask an everyday person what are the two events, the two sporting events that they enjoy the most, I think you would always get the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games. I think they rank the Commonwealth Games much higher than the World Championships or any of the others that we compete in, the European championships or whatever. It's just a shame that it is a Games, but for us it's not that many points associated with it in terms of your Olympic qualification.”

How would winning a medal again sort of rank in all of your career highlights?

“For me, winning bike races is obviously the goal, ultimately, and every race you cross the line first gives you a different kind of enjoyment or joy, whatever. And it would rank highly, I mean, I think it seems a long time ago the Olympics. And you're judged by your last race, aren't you? So I would obviously love to cross the finish line first.”

The Commonwealth Games is going to have more medals for female athletes than for male athletes. The first female Tour de France is now also underway: what significance does this event have for your sport?

“I think that's just brilliant for the sport. I always said that you should never run it at the same time, like you should never have it like running alongside it. But the way they've done it with just having that one stage on the same day I think is absolutely brilliant. And it can only help grow women's sport ultimately.

But we need the TV coverage to get the sponsors and then one thing obviously leads to another. Next year is the first time the minimum wage is coming in for road riders, which matches the men's as well. And so I just think the more that we can do to bring us in line with the men, the better. And I think doing what they did yesterday at the Tour was a brilliant idea.”

Would you fancy racing the women’s Tour de France?

“I absolutely do not ever want to do that bike race! (laughs)”

Since your son Albie has been coming along, you and Jason have shared different tasks when you were both competing. How have your arranged things this time?

“It's completely different this time because Jason is now a coach. Obviously when he was a bike rider, it was very different. Like he could come around and travel with me the whole time, whereas because he's now a staff member, we have this rule about staff members can't have relationships with athletes.... So he’s staying at the village and I have to just always tell Albie that dad is at work even if he is like two minutes up the road!

“I'm staying outside of the village which I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have allowed at the Olympics. They've allowed me to stay in an Airbnb, which is literally the London Olympic Village. And so I just nip across to the hotel for meetings and stuff and my mum and dad can help. So Albie is living the dream in here: we grew up down here, so my mum and dad have just taken them to all the places that we went to when we were little

You are now Britain’s greatest Olympian, what are your thoughts on your ten-year journey since London 2012?

“Ten years, I mean, what an absolute whirlwind! I can't believe it's been ten years to start with, but it's just more than I could ever have imagined was ever going to be possible for me. And like doing it with Albie as well because I went to London and that happened so, so fast. Everything happened so fast that I just never even processed it. And then when I went to Rio, I felt like pressure was on, like, ‘You have to go and try to win these two bike races.’ And even for me, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it again.

“Then obviously when we threw Albie into the mix, I just completely underestimated how hard that was going to be. It was never like, 'Oh, Albie can just stay home with his dad.’ It was never that case. It was always, you know, we threw in this element of 'Right now we got to stay away from the team and we're going to have to travel separately.’ And it just brought a completely different element, but it almost made Tokyo even better.

“I felt so proud of what Jason and I did after Tokyo and yeah we didn't go on to win four golds but just even crossing the finish line with the two golds that we did get, it just made it all the better. I honestly hold that gold medal in Madison so highly in terms of... Probably at the top, in terms of my career highlights, I think it was just because bringing Albie to the world and having to deal with that and then coming back and do it all over again.”

You had an incredibly tough year and you’ve been quite public about your miscarriage: how did that change your perspective in terms of preparing for sporting events?

“I just felt like nothing was going our way at all. January for me was an absolute tipping point. Like, I was at breaking point. And I think without Jason, I would have just canned everything like, I'd have just gone, ‘You know what, I can't even cope with doing any of this anymore…”

“When I grabbed for my safety blanket and just decided, ‘Right, I just need to ride the bike again.’ And I just think everyone was like, 'What on earth is she doing?' But for me, that's home. Like, that's what I've done for the last 13 years and it feels like a safe place. And so the obvious thing for me to do when I felt that sad and that broken was to just go out and ride my bike again.

“I mean it puts lots of things into perspective. I mean I was really quite poorly and I think just even seeing Jason the way he was around me just made me realise, 'wow, like I put my family and everyone under so much stress', obviously not meaning to, it's not like I did it on purpose. But I think it made us realise, you know, cycling is one thing, but life is another. And I do really think it kind of brought us back to earth, well, with a massive thud but it really did make you think, ‘Right, why am I doing this?' And I was like, 'Yeah, I enjoy it and that's why I'm doing it.' And I think it made me realise that more than ever.”

You’re going into these Games as one of the most well-know athletes. Do you even feel that pressure after what you’ve been through over the past few years and in particular this year?

“This time more than ever, I just feel so relaxed about the whole situation. I don't know whether it is because I never really thought the Commonwealth Games was going to be a target because of obviously what we were planning, I mean we were planning on having another little one by now. And I think because I never really thought, 'Right I'm going to go all guns blazing for that Commonwealth Games', I've sort of come out here like really relaxed.

“Even in team sessions, it just feels so different. I don't see it was always going to because we've got two of us that went to the Olympics and two of the young ones, and yeah I feel more relaxed than ever to be honest, I feel like, I'm literally just going to race my bike. And it's always bringing more joy. Like, I'm so excited just to get out in front of the home crowd again because you don't get it that often. And especially inn London, I love London!”

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