'There were a lot of things in the run-up to Tokyo that weren't ideal': Laura Kenny opens up on team pursuit disappointment at the Olympics

Kenny's two medals at Tokyo were her first as a mother, and she plans on returning to the Olympic scene in Paris

Team pursuit Great Britain women
(Image credit: Getty)

Six Olympic medals, five of them gold, Britain's greatest ever female Olympian - Laura Kenny could very easily retire happily.

But she won't, her aim squarely set on Paris 2024. After a decade at the top, though, why is she continuing her story? "Because I love riding my bike," she laughs, almost incredulously. "I miss it when I don't do it. It's been such a huge part of my life for such a long time that I almost don't know any different. I honestly just enjoy doing it. It's not a job for us."

It's that passion - fierce and tangible when Cycling Weekly speaks to her before the third round of the UCI Track Champions League - that makes her so disappointed by what happened at the Tokyo Games.

Kenny won Madison gold with Katie Archibald, but the Great Britain foursome of those two plus Neah Evans and Josie Knight failed to retain team pursuit gold, settling for second behind Germany.

They've had the debrief, discussed why they didn't win a third consecutive gold, but it doesn't require an extensive report to explain Britain's shortcomings. Kenny has the answers and they revolve around one key change: the departure of Paul Manning as women's endurance coach in November that prompted the arrival of Monica Greenwood just a few weeks later. 

"There was a lot of things in the run-up to the Tokyo that wasn't ideal," the 29-year-old says. "The fact that we had to change coach before the Olympics - that's never happened to us before. 

"And to be totally honest I think that had a massive effect. In the build-up we had to get used to a new way of someone interpreting training, a new way of someone coaching us - it was very, very different. And not ideal."

For clarification, Kenny is not annoyed with Greenwood's appointment, but rather the timing of the departure of Manning, her long-time coach.

"The team wasn't selected when Paul left so Monica came on board and selected the team," she continues. "We did a hit-out in April and to do a hit-out that close to an Olympics... 

"I just think you shouldn't be tapering twice in one year. I do think that had a massive effect on our team performance.

"The Germans were better than us in the team pursuit, but there were lots of things I feel in the build up we could have done that would have meant a different outcome, but we'll never know."

A day later, thanks to a faulty connection that meant the interview had to be rearranged, Kenny reiterates the strength of her feeling.

"I think there were a lot of things that we maybe didn't do [in Tokyo] which I'm obviously not going to let on for what I think we can improve on," she adds.

"But I do think there were lots of things in the build-up that we maybe didn't get right, and if we had the opportunity to do it again, we'd do it very differently."

Kenny has recently just returned to riding after a lengthy post-Games break that she enjoyed with her seven-time Olympic champion husband Jason and their son Albie. 

She has set no date on her return to racing, a different approach to that of Archibald who has a race-heavy program, but Kenny is insistent that it doesn't put her at a disadvantage. "I think experience counts for a lot," she says. "I've done this a long time and it's a mix of writing stuff with your coach, believing in a plan, and knowing you can get back.

"Because of Covid we didn't do any racing last summer and we still went on to win the Madison, and there's lots of in-house things we can do that I think gets me just as fit as racing all of the time."

One reason why she doesn't commit to multiple races is her son Albie, who recently began primary school. In winning gold and silver at Tokyo, she became the latest in a short line of elite female athletes to succeed after childbirth.

"I think Jessica Ennis-Hill proved that being a sportswoman and mother can coincide with each other," she adds.

"The Madison was a huge target of ours, and once the team did get selected Katie and I put so much work into that bike race

"Having Albie meant that our lifestyle and training schedule was different to anything we'd done prior, different to any other Olympic cycle we've done before, and it made it even more special.

"But it didn't just prove to me that you can go on and win an Olympic medal as a mother, it proved to lots of other people and athletes thinking of having a child that it can be done.

"I'm not just saying that as a flippant comment as if it was easy, because it definitely wasn't easy, but it proves you don't have to end your career because you want to have children."

In the interim period between ahead of her own unscheduled return to racing, Kenny is providing analysis for the third and fourth round of the UCI Track Champions League for Discovery Sports Events that takes place in London this weekend (December 3 and 4).

Sitting in the pundit's seat as opposed to being the one riding around the track offers a different perspective to Kenny, but one that she likes. "It's almost nice to be on the other side," she assesses. 

"I love being around bike races, we know the people because we travel around the world with these people, so it's nice to actually watch bike racing and for it to be low pressure for me as I'm waiting rather than competing. It's good fun."

Watch the UCI Track Champions League LIVE on discovery+, Eurosport and GCN+ (Friday - 6.30pm, Saturday - 6.45pm on E1) 

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