Grassroots to Glory - Laura Kenny
The four-time gold medallist is back for more!
Aspiring cyclists would do anything for a sit-down with Laura Kenny, Britain’s most successful female Olympian. But when you are the four-time gold medallist herself, who do you turn to for advice? Enter Jessica Ennis-Hill. The heptathlete’s victory on Super Saturday was one of the defining moments of London 2012, rivalling then 20-year-old Kenny (nee Trott)’s own two nation-galvanising golds that summer. But Kenny did not want to talk sporting shop with her Team GB teammate. She had babies on the brain, and Ennis-Hill had done something most athletes had not: won an Olympic medal, took time out to have a son, then returned to the top of her craft, claiming silver at Rio 2016.
“The more female athletes that have children, the better it’ll be for us,” said Kenny, who in August 2017 welcomed son Albert—or ‘Albie’, as he is known, with husband and fellow cycling legend Jason Kenny.
“I remember Jess Ennis falling pregnant and I was thinking ‘wow, that is going to take a serious comeback.’ That was it for me. Once I saw what Jess did, I realised it did not have to be the end of my career, because it is always in the back of your head. I always thought I wanted to be a young mum, and I always thought I’d have to decide between going to another Olympics or having a child.”
So, when Kenny saw Ennis-Hill was pregnant again, she rang up her fellow champion for some coaching on winning at pre-parenthood.
“I'm an organiser, I like to be really organised," explained Kenny, who has benefitted from National Lottery support of GB’s athletes throughout her career..
“I sat down with Jess and she said, ‘You must have a timetable in place and tell everyone exactly where and when you need them. I didn’t think I could do that, but actually it came very easy to me. I do like organising people, as it happens!”
Kenny is used to leading a pack and creating history, but just this once she was grateful there was someone to follow.
She said: “I remember sitting on the train with Jase and we knew I was pregnant, and we weren’t sure what we were actually going to do. It was a big step to say that I didn’t want to quit, and I don’t want it to be the end. The more of us that have children, the more that will be a taboo, and the more it will be forgotten about.
“Jess was a massive inspiration, to see her go to an Olympics made me think I could do it too.”
Kenny is one of a generation of athletes who has seen a the fortunes of Team GB transform over the past two decades thanks to National Lottery funding. Most of us know the legend by now: Kenny followed up her stunning London 2012 Olympic debut with two more golds in the same events, omnium, and team pursuit, at the Rio 2016 Games. Husband Jason, meanwhile, has six golds to his name, tied with Chris Hoy for the most in British history. Either Kenny could break Hoy’s record this summer, adding to a family Gross National Medal Product that exceeds the total for entire nations, enough precious metal on ribbons to use as baubles on the tree this Christmas with a few to spare.
But every great superhero has an origin story, and Kenny’s is a certainly a marvel.
A career in sport—let alone The Olympics—was hardly on Glenda and Adrian Trott’s radar when their daughter was born a month premature with a collapsed lung, with doctors later diagnosing her as asthmatic. Glenda, looking to get into better shape, took up cycling when Kenny was eight. Both her daughters, Laura and older sister Emma soon followed. Soon, family spins around Hertfordshire turned into focused thrice-weekly training sessions at Welwyn Wheelers for eight-year-old Laura.
Future Commonwealth Games cyclist Emma always preferred the road while her little sister immediately took to the track, coming in third in sprint at the National Junior Track Championships in 2008 and claiming her first national titles a year later.
“I wouldn't be here with four Olympic golds if it had not been for the support of my mum and dad," said Kenny.
"When Emma and I were younger, we would always go to the same bike races, but as you get older, they start to be all over the country. So, my dad would go with Emma and mum with me, and I always used to speak to her about absolutely everything - whether it was boyfriends or cycling.”
"As I got older and headed into the senior ranks, it was actually my dad that I ended up picking up the phone to.”
Adrian was there to celebrate in 2010, unquestionably Kenny’s breakout season. A world junior omnium gold led to a senior team spot - and a European senior team pursuit gold - when she was just 18. Seven world, World Cup and European titles, and accompanying Olympic buzz, followed a year later.
Then London—the part in the Kenny comic strip that can only be depicted with a giant, onomatopoeic “POW!”
Kenny, Joanna Rowsell and Dani King set and broke world records en route to their team pursuit gold, which Kenny promptly followed with a thrilling one-point, come-from-behind omnium victory.
She recalled: “At London 2012, I messaged [my dad] halfway through the omnium saying, ‘I can't do this, I've messed this up’. He is always that person who keeps me calm. My dad has such a good balance with knowing what to say without pushing me into sheer panic mode or feeling that I'm doing it for him. He's always been such a support as opposed to a pushy parent - though he'd say that we needed a bit of pushing initially to get into the sport. He always jokes that my life is one he's dreamt."
Kenny’s dad might need to set an alarm to watch her Tokyo races - starting before breakfast for most Brits - but he will no doubt be awake to watch his daughter pedal for the all-time British gold haul. She has a chance at three medals after being selected for omnium, team pursuit and Madison. Kenny is one Olympian who can confidently say the postponed Games were to her benefit after breaking her shoulder in January 2020, threatening her chances at competing in the Madison had Tokyo gone ahead as planned.
She was not initially sure if she would compete in these Games, but once she committed, she was, like always, all in.
“I wouldn't be going out for three-hour rides in the chucking rain if I didn't really want this badly,” she joked.
“In London, I was only 20 and I never expected to even get to the Games, never mind win two golds. Then in Rio I wanted to prove I was not a one-hit wonder – not just to the outside world but to myself as well.
"The fact I’ve done it twice before doesn't really matter. I want to prove to people I can do it again, and I also want to prove you can do it with a child.
"Albie brings a whole different aspect to it – it’s a little bit more chaotic than it was before, but in a good way I think.
"I get back from camp and I’m thrown straight into being a mum again, and it just makes me feel so much more relaxed.
"You just forget about anything you’ve done prior to that and I’m just living in the moment with Albie because that’s all he cares about.”
Kenny’s superhero status is solidified now—a silhouetted cyclist projected into the night sky.
Bruce Wayne once said, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
Some Brits might feel that way about Kenny, too, but certainly not one little boy back home in Cheshire.
This time, he is who she is racing for.
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