Internal competition for Olympic spots means 'you never ever chill out', says Elinor Barker

The 26-year-old says it's a different kind of pressure this time around in Tokyo

Elinor Barker
(Image credit: Getty)

Elinor Barker, one of Britain’s reigning Olympic champions at the upcoming Tokyo Games, has said that returning to defend the team pursuit title she and her team-mates won in Rio comes with added pressure to when they won it five years ago.

Five years ago, Elinor Barker was a debutant Olympian and only twenty-one years old when she formed part of the winning women’s team pursuit squad that broke the world record twice on route to a gold medal. “I had that feeling of whatever I came away with, even if I didn’t come away with a medal, I’d be really happy because I’d be an Olympian.”

“The pressure this time around going to Tokyo certainly feels different,” Barker said, “I am going back to defend my own title.”

This different form of pressure also comes from Barker’s changed role in the team. At last year’s Track World Championships, she was the only British cyclist to achieve a world title, suggesting the increased weight of expectation upon her. 

Though Team GB are the reigning Olympic champions in the women’s team pursuit, formidable opposition has arisen in recent years from the USA and Australia. The British team have placed second at the last three world championships. Barker, however, seems confident of their prospects, “three of us are going back to try and defend that title. So I feel like that’s quite a strong position to be in.”

 There have been few competitions to measure this confidence against, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. During the last eighteen months only the European Track Championships in November have provided some kind of recent benchmark for potential Olympic form. “I’m really glad we’ve had that kind of practice of what our competition during COVID times feels like, and the stress around it, and how to deal with all that.”

The internal competition with the British team, however, “means that you never ever chill out.” Barker has experienced this first-hand. She will only be competing in the team pursuit after Laura Kenny pipped her to a spot in the first ever Olympic women’s madison. “I was really gutted not to get this race,” she said, “but it’s not the only madison race in the world. I still plan on returning to the madison.”

Written by Issy Ronald