Britain’s four-time Olympic track cycling champion Laura Kenny says Jessica Ennis-Hill showed her it was possible to be a successful mum in sport, as she prepares for her first Games since the birth of her son, Albie.
Team GB’s most successful female Olympian started a family after her double gold at Rio 2016 with her now husband, and six-time Olympic champion, Jason Kenny.
But in a conversation with Eurosport from British Cycling’s holding camp at Celtic Manor, Kenny spoke about her pride that she is part of a moment which is inspiring women inside and outside of sport.
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“Jessica Ennis-Hill was a huge role model to me,” she said.
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“Now I can just pick up the phone to her, but when I fell pregnant I didn’t know her and my physiologist put me in touch with her. Before Jess got pregnant, I believed it wasn’t possible to come back from having kids.
“The changes that your body has to go through, and then the changes to get yourself back to how you were before having a child, I thought it would be such an effort and then you’ve got to look after them.
I thought I was going to have to try and have children really late, because there’s no way I could juggle both. Having mums in sport, it shows all women that they can reclaim their body again, it’s great to be a part of that movement.
Kenny will be going to her third Games, but she admits that had Jason not returned from his quiet retirement after Rio 2016, she would have felt a little lost. Laura will not confirm whether she will go to Paris in three years, saying she is only focused on the weeks ahead, but says having her husband around is a huge comfort.
“Having Jason here is great for reassurance. When he said he was going to retire in 2016, and I had no plans to, I just couldn’t imagine going to an Olympics without him being there, for so many different reasons.
“Even small things like using new equipment, we do that all the time because they want us to be the best of the best, and sometimes it’s not right and it doesn’t work for me...but I can just say to Jase, can I swap tyres?! I can’t do that with anyone else.”
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Track cycling looks likely to be one of few events at the Games which will have spectators, with the velodrome almost 100 miles away from Tokyo, which is in a state of coronavirus emergency. Local officials are deciding on the capacity, but Kenny says the latest information she has is that it will be half full.
“When I heard there would be no fans I was a little bit disappointed because I just thought it doesn’t really feel like an Olympics, whereas now, with 50%, I thought...that’s a bit better!
I just think it’s going to be very different, we’ve all got to get over there safely and when we’re in our bubble over there, I’ll feel a lot happier. It’s only the flight over there where there are question marks, people coming into our bubble who weren’t in it before.
The Kennys will be away from Albie for longer than they have ever been, but they are soaking up their last few days with him, with British Cycling allowing their son to stay in a lodge at the luxury Welsh resort with his grandparents.
Laura will be competing in three events at an Olympics for the first time, with the Madison added to the women’s programme for the first time ever. She admits she does not know where her form is at, but cannot wait to compete with Katie Archibald in the two-team event.
“It’s historic, but you’ve got to work so closely with your partner. It’s all about working your partner into the race, it’s not necessarily all about what you’re doing, you’re always thinking so far ahead and it’s so fast.
“The partnership that you have is what makes it so thrilling, and it’s just...carnage! There’s changes happening all over the place.”
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