Three Olympic medals later, Victoria Pendleton talks motivation and never giving up
‘I’ve eaten most of that fruit platter and two pastries,’ says Victoria Pendleton. ‘Yeah, that was me! I’m not going to deny it.’ The former Olympic cycling star has a contagious kind of energy, one that both puts you at ease and makes you want to rush outside and onto a bike. As an Olympic gold medallist and nine-time world champion track cyclist, the 35-year-old athlete knows a thing or two about bringing your A-game. Could she give us a few pointers?
You’re an inspiration to women around the world. Does that come with a lot of pressure?
‘I’ve always tried to be very open and honest about who I am, what I do, my struggles, my strengths and my weaknesses. I’ve never tried to be anything other than myself and I think people have always responded very well to my honesty. I’m not physically or mentally gifted in any way, I just work really hard and I take opportunities.’
Do you put all of your success down to hard work?
‘I think you need to have a small amount of ability, but by no means am I physically what they would look for in an athlete to do the job that I did. I haven’t got the right proportions to be good at lifting heavy weights, so for a power sport they were like, “what are you doing?” I was also told very early on by a sports psychologist that I didn’t have the mental ability to be a champion. People have been very clear in saying, “You aren’t gifted. You don’t have it.” I think I’m just really tenacious and stubborn, and anyone can be that if they want to be.’
Being told you can’t do something can be great motivation…
‘Definitely. It’s nice to prove people wrong. I think it also helps having a twin brother. We were always brought up very equally so I’ve always felt, “If he can do this, I can do this!”’ He calls me his super twinnie, it’s really cute.’
What advice would you give to women who want to get into fitness?
‘It’s important to surround yourself with people who will push you and inspire you. Get your pals involved and say, “I’m going to do this 5K run, this is the time I want to do, let’s try it!” With any sport you’ve got to begin at the bottom. Don’t expect to go in and be some kind of gym hero. I couldn’t do it to start with. You should have seen me trying to learn some of the lifting techniques, I swear the strength and conditioning coach was banging his head against a brick wall going, “no!”’
How would you describe your diet?
‘When I retired I went vegetarian, mainly because I had to consume so much animal protein as an athlete that it became a bit like a job. I was in a very strict routine so being able to choose things because I liked the taste rather than the nutritional content was something I’d never really done before. I was like, “This feels really reckless!”‘
How did you celebrate winning your two golds?
‘That’s actually the one thing I regret most about my athletic career, not stopping to appreciate my success. I was always like, “What can I do next? When am I getting back in the gym?” I always had my head down thinking of the next goal. I think that’s very typical of modern day living, people always want more.’
So you weren’t given free condoms like the athletes at Rio 2016?
‘I didn’t get an invite to that party – that’s all I’m saying! I went out twice during the Olympics in Rio and that’s probably more than I did when I was an actual athlete. It was so much fun.’
Why do you think Britain was so successful at the Olympics this year?
‘I think a big part of it is lottery funding coming into the sport, and financially we’re in a position to give the athletes the best possible chances. It’s really cool to say, “GB – one of the most successful sporting nations in the world”. Growing up that would’ve been something I could never have imagined. We came away from Atlanta in 1996 with one gold medal.’
Victoria Pendleton is working with Activia, sharing her story of striving to achieve her personal best, aiming to inspire women to Live InSync.