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Dame Laura Kenny admits lack of hunger fuelled retirement decision

Dame Laura Kenny admitted a lack of hunger to pursue an unprecedented sixth Olympic gold medal contributed to her decision to announce her retirement from cycling at the age of 31.

Kenny, Britain’s most decorated female Olympian, faced an improbable task to reach a fourth Games in Paris this summer having not returned to training after giving birth to her second child.

Realistically, she required an extraordinary performance at next month’s Track Nations Cup in Canada to stand any chance of making the squad, and for Kenny it ultimately came down to a question of priorities.

“Going on to win another gold medal, as much as I would love to do that, it wasn’t giving me the energy I wanted anymore, it just wasn’t,” Kenny told BBC Breakfast.

“I wasn’t thinking, ‘I really want to go on and win one’. I was thinking, ‘I really want to stay at home with the children’.”

Kenny and her husband, Sir Jason Kenny – Britain’s most decorated Olympian – last year welcomed a second son to their family and she said spending time at home was proving increasingly alluring to her.

She added: “I always knew deep down I would know when was the right time. I have had an absolute blast but now is the time for me to hang that bike up.

Laura Kenny won seven Olympic gold medals in her “extraordinary” career (David Davies/PA)
Laura Kenny won seven Olympic gold medals in her “extraordinary” career (David Davies/PA)

“It’s been in my head a little while, the sacrifices of leaving the children and your family at home is really quite big and it really is a big decision to make.

“More and more, I was struggling to do that. More people asking me what races was I doing, what training camps was I going on – I didn’t want to go ultimately and that’s what it came down to.

“I knew the minute I was getting those feelings. Once I said to Jase, ‘I don’t think I want to ride a bike anymore’, I started to feel relief.”

Kenny won team pursuit and omnium gold at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games and madison gold at the 2020 Olympics, where she also won a silver medal in the team pursuit.

She is a seven-time world champion and 14-time European champion, won two Commonwealth Games titles and was British National Road Race champion in 2014.

Kenny said the “absolute highlight” of her career was the 2012 Games in London, during which her relationship with Jason also became public.

Laura Kenny, pictured after winning omnium gold at London 2012, is a two-time double Olympic champion
Laura Kenny, pictured after winning omnium gold at London 2012, is a two-time double Olympic champion (David Davies/PA)

“I never thought I would go to a home Games, let alone go on to win two gold medals,” she said.

“When I look back, I’m like ‘wow, those two weeks did really change my life’.”

Tributes poured in following Kenny’s announcement, with former Olympic heptathlon champion Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill writing on Instagram: “Laura what an incredible career you have had!

“You are such a legend, always will be and you will continue inspiring! Enjoy this next chapter.”

Sprint great Mark Cavendish described Kenny as an “absolute legend”, while British Olympic Association chairman Sir Hugh Robertson wrote: “Dame Laura Kenny has been our greatest ever female Olympian and a huge part of cycling and Team GB’s success at London, Rio and Tokyo.

“However, as well as being an outstanding athlete, she has also been a wonderful personality. We will all miss her enormously and wish her, and her family, all the very best for the future.”

Kenny, made a Dame in the 2021 New Year’s Honours, hopes to be at this summer’s Paris Olympics “in some capacity” and wants to stay involved with the GB cycling team.

“There’s nothing set in stone but there are things I’m so interested in doing,” she added.

“Something to help the younger generation, whether that could be some kind of academy.

Sir Jason Kenny and Dame Laura Kenny received their Knighthood and Damehood in the 2021 New Year honours list
Sir Jason Kenny and Dame Laura Kenny received their Knighthood and Damehood in the 2021 New Year honours list (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“I could never be a coach because that’s just too much pressure for me, but maybe something in the background that would help the youngsters have the opportunities I had.”

Great Britain team performance director Stephen Park paid tribute to Kenny, saying: “Laura hangs up her wheels as not just one of the sport’s greatest riders, but as one of the greatest sporting talents our country has ever produced.”

Park added: “Just as impressive, however, is the impact which Laura has had on her fellow riders on the GB cycling team and the next generation of Olympic hopefuls.

“She has been a beacon of inspiration for so many, young and old, and I’m sure that the entire British cycling community will join me in wishing her the very best in the next chapter of her life.”