Number 8: Shanaze Reade
Last year’s position: N/A
The strength of an athlete’s character is determined by how the react to adversity.
Two years ago, Shanaze Reade was the hot, hot favourite for the gold medal in the BMX competition at the Beijing Olympics. She crashed out. All that work, gone, torn to ribbons. Suddenly, London looked a long way off.
In 2009, a persistent shoulder injury meant Reade was forced to miss the World Championships and her hold on the rainbow jersey was relinquished.
Meanwhile, her transition from BMX daredevil to track star appeared to be far from smooth. The assumption she would be Victoria Pendleton’s partner in the team sprint at London 2012 was put in question by the emergence of Jess Varnish and Becky James.
And then came some stinging criticism from her former coach, Jamie Staff.
As a former BMX and track world champion, Staff knows what it takes. And as Reade’s occasionally exasperated coach he got to know the rider and all her character traits.
In an interview with Cycling Weekly, Staff questioned Reade’s maturity and ability under pressure. “She’s in la-la land half the time. She’s amazingly talented, so driven and self-motivating but she doesn’t do herself any favours sometimes,” Staff said.
Staff has some strident views and they made uncomfortable reading for Reade. However harsh they looked in black and white, Staff’s comments were made from an affectionate standpoint.
If it was an attempt at reverse-psychology, a bid to fire up Reade and give her some ammunition, it worked.
At the World Championships in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, she was back to her best and reclaimed her rainbow jersey.
Not everything went her way at the Worlds. She had a rocky run through to the final but seemed to grow into the competition and by the crucial stages she was hitting her marks, getting to the first corner by a bike length and holding off the 2009 champion, Sarah Walker of New Zealand.
Reflecting on her crash in Beijing she said recently: “Mental skills are more important than physical skills – I was fast enough to win the Olympics in 2008 but I didn’t win because I wasn’t strong enough mentally.”
Her prize for finishing eighth in the BMX final in Beijing was a certificate. She left it in her room because she had gone to China for a medal – a gold medal – not a piece of paper.
A year ago, the idea of Reade doubling up and doing both BMX and track in London looked like it might be asking too much.
There is still much to do, especially on the track, but the 22-year-old has found the missing piece of the jigsaw and answered many of Staff’s questions this year.
July – Gold medal, BMX World Championships (Pietermaritzburg)
Cycling Weekly’s Top British Riders of 2010 advent calendar: We will reveal one rider per day behind the virtual doors of our sparkly advent calendar from Wednesday December 1 to Christmas Eve, Friday December 24. The top eight will then be revealed in Cycling Weekly magazine’s final issue of the year, which will be in the shops on December 30 2010.