First spotted by the Welsh Talent Team, having started her career with her local Abergavenny Road Club, James graduated onto the British Cycling Junior Academy, at the age of 15, and was soon progressing through the ranks with a host of British national titles
A bout of glandular fever in 2008 cost her a place at the UEC European Junior Track Championships but James made up for that disappointment the following season, winning European junior golds in the sprint and 500-metre time trial in Minsk, Belarus, and world junior titles in the keirin and sprint in Moscow.
Her showing in those UCI World Junior Track Cycling Championships also included a silver medal, in the time trial, and a new world record of 11.093 in the 200-metre time trial portion of the sprint competition.
The graduation towards senior competition continued seamlessly in 2010 as, riding for Wales, she won two medals at the Commonwealth Games as well as returning from the UEC European Under-23 Track Championships in Saint Petersburg, Russia, with a world title in the sprint and silvers in the time trial and team sprint, with Williamson.
As she entered 2011, her first UCI Track Cycling World Cup medal came in Beijing in January with a keirin bronze and, after a gold in the team sprint with Jess Varnish at that summer’s UEC Under-23 European Track Cycling Championships in Anadia, Portugal - as well as a silver in the 500-metre time trial at the same championships - James was under serious consideration for London 2012.
World Cup gold rush
Unfortunately, for James, the brilliance of Victoria Pendleton and Varnish denied her a debut Olympics but the 2012 season was hardly a failure for the Welsh sprinter who would end the year by joining Varnish in winning two team sprint gold medals in UCI Track Cycling World Cup meetings in Cali, Colombia and Glasgow.
James also added a sprint silver in Cali and bronze in Glasgow and, following the post-Olympic retirement of Pendleton, James was staking a claim for a key role in the Great Britain Cycling Team.
For good measure, the autumn of 2012 also saw James win four golds at the British Cycling National Track Championships, including the team sprint with sister Rachel, a talented rider who would go on to become a Para-cycling pilot and set a world record in the tandem kilo with Sophie Thornhill in 2014.
The scene was set for James’ triumphant, four-medal showing at the 2013 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Minsk in February. In the best-of-three sprint final, the Briton beat German powerhouse Kristina Vogel 2-1 and, a day later, she edged out China’s Gong Jinjie to add keirin gold.
The opening two days of those championships had already brought podiums, with James joining Williamson in the team sprint to beat Australia for the bronze medal while James also added bronze in the 500-metre time trial, a result that left her the number one ranked woman in the event in the 2012-13 UCI Track Cycling World Rankings.
There was also a team sprint bronze with Varnish in the UEC European Track Championships and a successful 2013 rounded off with five medals - three silvers and two bronze - in UCI Track Cycling World Cup events.
But the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Cali would prove a disappointment for James as she struggled with injury and managed bronze medals in the team sprint and keirin and, by the time the Glasgow Commonwealth Games arrived in the summer, knee injuries forced her withdrawal.
Those problems would leave James facing 21 months out of competitive action for the Great Britain Cycling Team as, in April 2014, she underwent surgery and then a keyhole operation on a chronic shoulder problem; all of which were followed by a four-month rehabilitation programme to cure her knee.
By September 2015, however, she stood on the podium for the sprint and keirin at the British Cycling National Track Championships and, in December in Cambridge, New Zealand, when she competed in the sprint at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup meeting, it was her first outing in Great Britain colours since the 2014 UCI Track Cycling World Championships.
That prolonged absence made James’s performance at the 2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in London all the more remarkable as, having been required to come through two repechage rounds, she won bronze in the keirin final, beaten only by Vogel and Meares, two of the most dominant riders in the history of women’s sprinting.
James not only maintained that form heading into the Rio Olympic Games but actually improved dramatically. The Welsh rider came through the two qualifying rounds of the keirin comfortably and, in a thrilling final, won the silver medal, finishing with a flourish and only missing gold to Dutch rider Elis Ligtlee by 0.033.
Her form in the sprint was, arguably, even more impressive as she qualified fastest over the flying 200m and advanced through four rounds of match sprint without losing a single race. Eventually, in the gold medal final, she found Vogel too difficult an opponent but still emerged with her second silver medal of an incredible Olympic campaign.
Away from the bike
James’s first introduction to cycling came, at the age of 11, at an afternoon club at her school. She was also a keen horse rider and competed in show jumping until the risk of injury, and her blossoming cycling career, required her to stop riding.
James grew up in a cycling-mad family with sister Ffion a mountain bike rider, sister Rachel a national champion team sprint rider and currently with the Great Britain Para-cycling team, and siblings Gareth and Megan also keen cyclists.
James, who listens to electronic dance music while warming up for races, is also a keen baker and has her own Instagram page devoted to her creations.
During her lengthy recovery from injury, James maintained her fitness in the swimming pool, participating in what she describes as “aqua jogging.”
Her partner is Wales and British Lions rugby star George North and the pair have a pet dachshund named Lola who has her “own” Instagram account with over 5,000 followers.
|UCI Track Cycling World Championships, London (UK)||Keirin||Bronze|
|Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)||Keirin||Silver|
|Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)||Sprint||Silver|
|UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Cali (Colombia)||Team sprint||Bronze|
|UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Cali (Colombia)||Keirin||Bronze|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Manchester (UK)||Team sprint||Silver|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Manchester (UK)||Keirin||Silver|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Manchester (UK)||Sprint||Bronze|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Aguascalientes (Mexico)||Team sprint||Silver|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Aguascalientes (Mexico)||Keirin||Bronze|
|UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Minsk (Belarus)||Keirin||Gold|
|UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Minsk (Belarus)||Sprint||Gold|
|UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Minsk (Belarus)||Team sprint||Bronze|
|UCI Track Cycling World Championships, Minsk (Belarus)||500m time trial||Bronze|
|UEC European Track Championships, Apeldoorn (Holland)||Team sprint||Bronze|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Glasgow (UK)||Team sprint||Gold|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Glasgow (UK)||Sprint||Bronze|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Cali (Colombia)||Team sprint||Gold|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Cali (Colombia)||Sprint||Silver|
|UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Beijing (China)||Keirin||Bronze|
|UEC U23 European Track Cycling Championships, Anadia (Portugal)||Team sprint||Gold|
|UEC U23 European Track Cycling Championships, Anadia (Portugal)||500m time trial||Silver|
|Commonwealth Games, Delhi (India)||Sprint||Silver|
|Commonwealth Games, Delhi (India)||500m time trial||Bronze|
|UCI Junior World Track Cycling Championships, Moscow (Russia)||Sprint||Gold|
|UCI Junior World Track Cycling Championships, Moscow (Russia)||Keirin||Gold|
|UCI Junior World Track Cycling Championships, Moscow (Russia)||500m time trial||Silver|
|UEC European Track Championships, Minsk (Belarus)||Sprint||Gold|
|UEC European Track Championships, Minsk (Belarus)||500m time trial||Gold|
|UEC European Track Championships, Minsk (Belarus)||Keirin||Silver|