The London velodrome is Laura Kenny’s favourite track after her home success at London 2012
|Hosts: Lee Valley VeloPark, London Dates: 29 July to 1 August|
|Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV with extra streams on BBC iPlayer, Red Button, BBC Sport website and BBC Sport mobile app.|
Opening the door to her Airbnb, Laura Kenny was struck by a strong sense of deja vu.
“Like I’d been in this flat before.”
She had, or an exact replica at least, 10 years ago at the London 2012 Olympics. Almost exactly a decade on, she has inadvertently rented an apartment for the Commonwealth Games in what was the Olympic athletes’ village.
This time, instead of her then-flatmate Dani King, she’s sharing it with her parents and son Albie.
Long gone are the restful nights pre-competition. This time around, she’s sharing the bed with a four-year-old.
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” Kenny says of London 2012, the Olympics at which she captured the hearts of the British public with her first two Olympic golds.
“It’s more than I could ever have imagined was ever going to be possible for me.”
In the years since, the 30-year-old has gone on to win a further three Olympic titles and a silver, making her the most successful British female athlete in Olympic history. She has seven world titles and 14 European titles, and now goes by the title of Dame.
But on Friday, it’s back to the boards on which she rose to prominence when the Commonwealth Games take over the London velodrome.
While the Games are being hosted in Birmingham, the track cycling is in the capital, and Team England’s Kenny is relishing the opportunity of a trip down memory lane.
“Everything about it, I just love. Even when I’m walking down the stairs, the smell just brings back memories,” she said.
“It is my favourite track and it’s always going to be. I grew up really quite close to this velodrome so it’s always going to feel like this is my local home track.”
Laura Kenny won points race gold at the 2014 Commonwealths
Despite her bumper crop of medals, Kenny has just one from the Commonwealth Games – points race gold from Glasgow 2014, having missed the 2018 edition just months after giving birth to Albie.
Albie will be watching his mum in action for the first time in London, unable to travel to Tokyo last year to watch both her and dad Jason – a coach for Team England at the Commonwealths – make it 12 Olympic golds for the Kenny family due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“I don’t really know what I’m expecting going into this race,” said Kenny. “We haven’t really had that much track time, literally in the last month I’ve had three sessions on the track.
“I feel like before that probably would have worried me and I would have been sat here panicked, but I’m just really excited to go out and race my bike again.
“I feel like I have got really low expectations and maybe that seems daft because people on the outside are going to expect me to cross the finish line first, but I feel in a really relaxed place right now.
“I’m not really putting any expectation on myself at all for this competition. I’m just glad to be here.”
‘Cycling is one thing, life is another’
Kenny hadn’t expected to be at these Games. She revealed in April that, after becoming pregnant following last summer’s Tokyo Games, she miscarried at nine weeks in November, then had an ectopic pregnancy in January.
Months on, she talks openly about the change in perspective such a horrific experience brought, and the reinforcement of her love for being on two wheels.
“January, for me, was an absolute tipping point. I was at breaking point and I think without Jason, I’d have just canned everything,” she said.
“The obvious thing for me to do when I felt that sad and that broken was to just go out and ride my bike again.
“As an athlete, you’ve got muscle memory and it just started to come back, and once I started to get back into the rhythm of things, I never really thought ‘I’m not going to compete’.
“It put lots of things into perspective. I was really quite poorly and just even seeing Jason, the way he was around me, just made me realise I’d put my family under so much stress. Obviously not meaning to, but I think it made us realise that cycling is one thing, but life is another.
“It brought us back to earth with a massive thud, but it did make you think ‘why am I doing this?’. I enjoy it, and that’s why I’m doing it, and it made me realise that more than ever.”
Kenny will compete in the team pursuit, scratch race and points race at the Commonwealths but, with her self-imposed low expectations, she’s going into this competition with an entirely different mindset.
“I just feel so relaxed about the whole situation,” she said.
“I don’t know whether it is because I never really thought the Commonwealth Games was going to be a target, because we were planning on having another little one by now.
“I feel more relaxed than ever. It’s almost bringing more joy. I’m so excited just to get out in front of a home crowd again, because you don’t get it that often, especially in London.
“I love London.”