I don’t know what sort of a day it was when British Cycling’s Jonny Clay, an Olympic Bronze Medallist from Sydney 2000, managing the Talent Team initiative in Yorkshire, arrived at the school in Otley.
I do know that a young girl called Lizzie Armitstead was sat in a classroom, not looking forward to a double maths lesson later that day.
I’m pretty sure that neither Jonny nor Lizzie dreamed that fate was underway, that planets were coming into alignment, and that one rainy day in 2012 in London, destiny would lead that young girl to go one better than the man who had just arrived, and achieve the glory of an Olympic Silver Medal.
The story goes that Lizzie didn’t even own a bike at the time. That she had no idea what bike racing involved. That she only put herself forward to do the tests that Jonny set up on the school playing field because one of the boys said “Girls can’t do this”. I don’t know whether all or any of this is true.
But I do know that her results were astonishingly good. That Jonny arranged for her to be supported as part of the Regional Talent Team. That she went all the way through British Cycling’s development programmes to the highest level. That within a few short years she had gone from the playground to the podium.
I’ve said many times before that governing bodies don’t make champions – they need the right genes, they need years of total dedication and commitment; they need above all to want it. They are special people.
Our job is to put in place the circumstances in which we can find those special people, support them with the best possible resources, surround them with the best possible experts, provide them with a sport to take part in, and allow them to thrive. That way they can achieve their full potential, and delight us all with their successes.
That’s what Lizzie did today and she can be immensely proud of herself. Thank you Lizzie, you did a great ride and got a great result.
Once again the cycling team have brought home the first medal of the Olympic Games. A great team effort, not only from the teammates on the bike, Emma, Nicole and Lucy, but also from everyone behind the scenes.
Today across the country a generation of school kids were watching the television or lining the roads of London and Surrey, and thinking “You know what? I want to see if I can do what Lizzie did. I fancy having a go at that sport”. And that makes me happy, very happy. That’s why we do what we do, isn’t it? Tonight Lizzie and the British team have inspired a nation.
And no doubt Jonny is thinking back to that day in Otley, grinning a huge grin, and remembering what turned out to be a date with destiny. Nice work, everyone, nice work.