'We questioned why we were doing it' – Laura Kenny on juggling parenting with Tokyo Olympics dream
“There have been so many times, especially in the run up to the Games, that both of us questioned why we were even doing it. You end up thinking 'I physically haven’t got enough time to do this',” said Kenny, who is a Eurosport expert during the UCI Track Champions League, which returns to screens on November 27 on the Eurosport app, eurosport.co.uk and discovery+
‘I’m not going to pretend it was easy’ – Kenny on being an Olympic mum
Laura Kenny admits there were times her and husband Jason wondered if the sacrifices to make the Tokyo Olympics were worth it as they juggled training and raising their son.
The 29-year-old gave birth to Albie in 2017 after securing a second Olympic double at Rio 2016 in the velodrome.
She returned to competition at the beginning of 2018 in a bid to make the GB team for Japan, but a broken shoulder at the start of 2020 appeared to derail those hopes – especially as her targeted event, the Madison, required slingshotting a teammate forward with her arms during the race.
In the background, Jason was also struggling for form as they shared parenting duties.
However, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent postponement of the Olympics to 2021 allowed them to squeeze in an extra 12 months of preparation and head to the Japanese capital in much better shape.
It paid off. Laura became Britain’s most successful female Olympian in history with her fifth gold alongside Katie Archibald in the Madison, while Jason became Team GB’s most decorated athlete ever with his seventh gold in the keirin.
Laura, who is a Eurosport commentator and pundit during the current UCI Track Champions League, spoke to Orla Chennaoui about the challenges they faced in the build-up to Tokyo.
'Fabulous!' - GB's Kenny and Archibald 'strike gold' with madison triumph
“I’m not going to sit here and pretend it was easy,” Kenny said.
From the outside world, we make things look fun and we do make it look easy. But it’s not. There have been so many times, especially in the run up to the Games, that both of us questioned why we were even doing it.
“You end up thinking ‘I physically haven’t got enough time to do this’ or ‘this is taking away from resting’. You know what it’s like with littluns…”
'I just wish he was there'
Kenny admits it was difficult not being able to share their golden moments with Albie due to Covid restrictions, with the pair now taking a break from cycling to focus on parent duties.
“They are your life,” she continued. “You just want the best for them. And in my head, the best for him isn’t his parents leaving him for two weeks. It’s not ideal.
“He was always coming with us [to Tokyo] before Covid. Everything was planned, the grandparents were coming, the hotel was booked, he was on the same flight as us. And then obviously that got taken away and he couldn’t come.
“I said to our press officer ‘please, I don’t want anybody to ask me about Albie. I don’t want to answer those questions.’ Because we won, I just wish he was there. We did it for him.
All the sacrifices were for that one day and I just wish he was there to see it. That’s the only thing I would change.
'It was so bish, bash, bosh' - Kenny impressed with UCI Track Champions League
Kenny burst onto the scene with gold in the team pursuit and omnium at London 2012 – something she describes as a “complete shock” – before she repeated the double-act at Rio 2016.
However, it is the Madison triumph with Archibald in Tokyo that she ranks as her sweetest given the obstacles she faced along the way.
“All Olympic golds are special in their own merit and I always thought there would be nothing that tops London 2012 for me. It was a complete shock and out of the blue,” she said.
“But with the build-up and my shoulder and arm leaving me thinking ‘well, that’s the Madison gone’… and then Covid and we’re training at home with a three-year-old and I’m thinking ‘this could possibly be the end of my career because I don’t know how we can do this without babysitters’.
“And then Katy and I put so much work into it [the Madison] – we had a change of coach just to add to the chaos. We worked so well and so hard that I do think that that one probably is the most special. And obviously giving birth four years prior to it…”
Kenny also won silver in the team pursuit alongside Archibald, Elinor Barker and Josie Knight to move into fourth spot in the all-time rankings of British Olympic medallists. Only husband Jason (seven gold, two silver), Chris Hoy (six gold, one silver) and Bradley Wiggins (five gold, one silver, two bronze) can better her record – and at 29, she has time on her side to overhaul them.
When asked if she thought the sacrifice was worth it, Kenny added: “You’re both sat there and you’ve both won a gold medal. But I do think it took away from recovery although I would not change anything for the world.
“Albie is my everything and he’s the reason why I ride my bike today. I want him to have all the experiences and everything that Jason and I have had.
“But I think it did have an effect on our performance a lot of the time. And Jason will say he thinks he got lucky winning the keirin.
It was just very different and very difficult.
‘Absolutely remarkable’ – Jason Kenny storms to historic keirin gold
She added: “We just wanted time to be mum and dad. It’s been such a long time, with the delay [to Tokyo] as well, and there are so many sacrifices you have to make, more than I ever imagined.
“It’ll just be little things. I wanted to go and pick him up from nursery last year and I couldn’t because track didn’t finish until 6pm and I wasn’t going to leave him in there that long when he had grandparents who will have him.
“When I went away on training camps, I left him behind if Jason was there.
It just pulls on your heartstrings.
“I always pictured I wanted to be a hands-on mum, we didn’t want to have nannies in our house, and we were going to lean on the grandparents because they are retired. But I don’t like handing my life over to other people.
“We wanted to bring him up so we just decided that enough is enough for the time being. We’re going to take a good break and then start again.”