Twenty-four female athletes who responded to Victoria Pendleton’s call for Girls4Gold last summer attended an intensive five day camp with British Cycling last week, all bidding for the once in a lifetime opportunity to earn a place on a development programme with one of Great Britain’s most successful Olympic sports.
Led by the UK Sport and English Institute of Sport talent team and British Cycling’s world class coaching team, the 24 girls, who had been whittled down from over 1,300 original applicants over three talent assessment phases, spent five days at the Newport Velodrome and local mountain biking terrain, trialling for either the sprint or endurance track cycling or mountain biking programmes.
The purpose of this intensive selection event was to further explore all of the athletes’ talent characteristics and identify those who, with the best coaching and support, really could close the gap to the podium in short timeframes.
British Cycling’s Head Coach Shane Sutton opened the training camp with a presentation explaining the challenge ahead and the broad spectrum of characteristics that make a cycling champion.
Sutton said: “We are now getting down to the business-end of the Girls4Gold initiative and I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far. This week the girls are learning the day to day rigours of training and yet more training and the discipline required of a world class cyclist. They’re working with the best team of cycling coaches in the world and I’m confident we’ll sift out those with the potential to go all the way. It’s an exciting challenge.”
The training camp began with what could only be described as a “clumsy” approach to cycling, with crashes and bruises aplenty as the girls got to grips with the basics. However, the coaches were impressed by the commitment shown and the transformation of the girls over the five days; some of whom were competently performing timed flying 200m sprints on the track or competing against the clock down a mountain biking trail by the end of the camp.
With the talent identification process becoming more complex and multidisciplinary as the athletes progress through each selection phase, Performance Lifestyle Advisor Jo Harrison and British Cycling Psychologist Dave Readle were brought in to design a semi structured interview to investigate the athletes’ psychological and lifestyle profile - both important pieces of the talent jigsaw.
Harrison said: “To add another dimension to the information collected, we broke down the interview into three assessment areas; athletes lifestyle/background, understanding of a performance environment and their personal goals and motivation.
"Speaking to the athletes individually in this way allowed us to identify the personal challenges each athlete could face if they were to be selected for the next stage. The combination of Performance Lifestyle and psychological factors complements the physiological and skill acquisition profile of each athlete and will be fed into the athlete selection process.”
Talent Identification Scientist Natalie Dunman said: “The transformation of these girls over five days has been impressive, which is credit to their ability to push themselves throughout what must have been a very daunting experience. Imagine trying-out for a new sport under the instruction and watchful eyes of Pendleton and Romero’s coaches! They handled it well and really stepped up to the challenge.
“It is also testament to the world class coaching skills of Iain Dyer, Jan van Eijden, Jon Norfolk, Phil Dixon, Dan Hunt, Simon Cope and their assistant coaches from British Cycling. Coaching a group of ‘high performance novices’ with considerable potential but very little experience in the sport is a unique challenge, and the coaches were outstanding in this respect.”
UK Sport Talent Manager Chelsea Warr added: “London 2012 has provided British sport with a unique opportunity to develop a more systematic and proactive ‘no boundaries’ approach to unearthing, confirming and embedding exceptional talent into our World Class Performance Programmes via sharpening our traditional systems and looking for more novel opportunities. The last few days have convinced me more than ever of the wealth of untapped talent we have here in the UK.
“The partnership we have adopted here with British Cycling has been terrific as they have really seized this opportunity to continue to enhance their chances of more success in the future. We hope to use this as a shining example of how we intend to work to support other targeted Olympic sports in the coming cycle.”
Lauren Therin, one of the 24 athletes that attended the camp, described her experience: “When I heard I’d been selected for this stage I was hugely excited and just thought about how I could best prepare myself. I want to be on that Olympic start line aspiring to win a gold medal and I see this as an opportunity to achieve that. The girls here are really competitive and everyone wants to show the coaches that they’re the one, but there has been lots of support and it’s such a fantastic opportunity to work with the Olympic coaches.”
Now that the camp has finished, the talent team and British Cycling’s coaches now face the hard task of evaluating the information collected during the training camp and the previous talent assessment phases to determine how many girls will progress to the next phase of the Girls4Gold programme - talent confirmation. This will involve an extended period of commitment to the sport, in order to explore the athletes’ responsiveness to full time training.