Both the men’s and women’s sprint squads have had an inconsistent, disappointing few years since the London 2012 Games, where medals and titles have been few and far between. However, the women’s team sprint trio of Jess Varnish, Katy Marchant and Becky James, face the prospect of missing out on Rio altogether if they underperform at the Worlds next week.
“Every other team in the squad has qualified other than us, so we’ll see what happens,” said 25-year-old Varnish.
“We’ve had a messy run up in qualification through no fault of our own as athletes, mainly just people’s decisions above us. Obviously things haven’t gone perfectly, when we’ve been put out in different teams, they’ve always been trying different combinations rather than just committing to one thing – I can totally see why they’ve done that.”
In order to secure a spot on the plane to Brazil this summer, the riders have to put two places between themselves and France at the Worlds in the team sprint, to ensure they can field a second rider in the keirin and individual sprint.
“It is going to be hard and we are in an awkward situation but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Varnish continued. “We are in this situation now we just need to step up – we did in Hong Kong [Track World Cup round where GB won a silver medal] that really helped to get those points.”
“We are putting our lives on the line,” said Marchant. “We just have the mindset that as long as we train every day as hard as we can and go out there and give the best performance that we can then hopefully it will be enough.”
Varnish was adamant though that the Olympics does not “define your career”. Having set a world record in qualifying alongside Victoria Pendleton in the team sprint at the 2012 Games, the duo were disqualified from the final and both missed out on contesting the gold medal. Varnish went home from the Games empty handed.
“I’ve been at Olympic Games in the form of my life and been disqualified. You don’t die, if you don’t do it nothing happens,” she said.
“Don’t get me wrong everything we are doing now is for next week. We are doing everything we can we have been since the last World Championships, there’s not been one stone left unturned.”
British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton pointed to the retirement of athletes such as Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton after the last Olympics, and having to rebuild the sprint squad, as part of the reason for a lack of medals since 2012. The men’s squad has secured just one world title since 2012 — Jason Kenny in the keirin in 2013 — while Becky James also won two titles in 2013, but has been out injured the best part of the last two years.
“Yeah it’s been pretty lean,” Sutton said, “but I also believe with the exodus of certain athletes after London you have to rebuild your squad and you can’t replace these people. We’re not looking to replace them what we’re looking to do is develop new talent.”
Jason Kenny pointed to the fact other nations have been improving, as reason for GB’s sprinting stall.
“If you judge a result by its place we’ve done worse [compared to 2012] I think there’s been a few other nations that have joined the party at the front of proceedings,” he said.
“[I’m] as confident as ever,” he said. “I don’t really worry about it, I just turn up and do my best really there’s not more you can do is there.”
Sutton said: “We still believe we’re on the right trajectory going to Rio, but London will give us a lot of evidence based on what’s the gap, where’s the gap, are we in front by this much or behind.
“It’s the Worlds and we expect to take criticism if we don’t perform.”