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Q&A With Joanna Rowsell-Shand: Winning Olympic Gold For The Second Time

Three weeks ago, all eyes were on the Rio Olympic Velodrome as Team GB stormed to victory, adding 11 medals to their total. Fresh from the boards, we took the opportunity to speak to our ambassador Joanna Rowsell-Shand, to discover what it takes to be a two-time Olympic champion and get the secrets behind Team GB’s success on the track. 

How have British Cycling done it again?

I’ve been asked this a lot recently, but it doesn't come down to just one thing. Everything we do is based around the Olympics and all training phases are geared towards peaking at this one event.  It’s about all pieces of the puzzle coming together at the right time. We’re not scared to buy into that, knowing that it will all come together when we need it to. It’s all about looking at the big picture. 

After the Worlds earlier this year, did you or the team do anything differently in the run up to Rio?

It wasn't that we did anything differently, more that between the Worlds and the Olympics we had no competitions, so no road races or travel. Our training schedule continued but with fewer distractions and disruptions. 

How did it feel to win Gold?

It was an amazing feeling! Having broken the World record in the qualifying race, with such a great time, we were obviously thinking about winning. But doubts can start to creep in. Were the Americans playing tactics, placing slower times, not revealing their peaks? But you have to push these thoughts down, and when we finally crossed the line to win it took a while to sink in. It’s such a long time waiting and working for that one moment, that one day, and then it is all over in a matter of minutes. 

How do you manage the doubts when they start to creep in?

It’s part of the job. You have to control these thoughts, and not overthink things. I try to distract myself. At Rio, we watched films, the other sports and athletes and during the days in between competitions I would get on the Wattbike to stay active. 

What is the mentality and motivation like amongst the GB cycling team?

It’s great to be in a team so motivated to succeed. We train so hard together that it drives everyone on and when one of us wins, it lifts us all. It was especially great to see the Men’s Sprint Team get Gold - internally we knew they would peak for the Olympics, but after they came 6th at the Worlds, we knew the outside perception would be that they were surprise winners.  

A photo posted by Wattbike (@wattbike) on

Can it be competitive amongst the team, five women competing to be part of the team of four?

We do get on. But this is the most difficult part of any team event. It’s mentally the toughest part. When you’re also fighting for a place on a team, this creates added stress, but I’ve learnt how to deal with it. Competing as an individual can be easier; you just have to focus on your own performance and your competitors but it’s so rewarding to succeed as a team. 

You went SO fast in the final? What do you think drove you all on?

We’re all into the data and driven by times. Four years ago we were set the target of 4 minutes 10 seconds and we spent a long time working towards that pace. It was such an ambitious target, that this became a motivating factor for us. 

What was your Olympic cycling highlight?

It has to be Becky James winning Silver in the Keirin. She is such an inspiration. She has battled illness and injury to be at Rio. Having missed London 2012 I was so proud, and pleased for her when she won Silver. It was so well deserved and it was refreshing to see someone so ecstatic and pleased with Silver as sometimes people can get caught up about the colour of their medal. An amazing achievement. 

What was your other sporting highlight?

Definitely the women’s Hockey team winning Gold. I was in the car at the time, listening to the coverage on the radio. It was so tense, and I could just imagine the pressure the team were under as it moved into penalty shoot outs. I’ve met the Captain, Kate Richardson-Walsh at a number of events and they were so deserving of the Gold and all the great comments that have followed.

Why do you think Team GB do so well at this Games?

We’ve worked hard to invest in sport, to build upon the legacy and inspire a generation. We were set an ambitious target for an away Games, by determined people but funding was in the right places. As athletes we are driven, and we’re led by focused people, all wanting the best results. Many athletes at Rio will have watched London 2012 and wanted to be a part of that success and I think that has helped keep the legacy and momentum alive. 

Can this success be maintained for Tokyo 2020?

I hope it can! There’s so much potential, and so many opportunities for us to continue to grow. Every Olympics has some frustrating moments, and ‘what ifs?’ that could all result in success the next time around. 

Viewers called for you to be given a BBC pundit job after your insightful commentary. Did you enjoy it?

It was just two days after we won. It wasn't at all planned! It was all very last minute, I got a text a few hours before asking if I’d be up for an interview and I thought it would be five minutes, in and out. So, I headed across, sweaty and in training kit, and ended up staying much longer! I really enjoyed it. From my perspective, I tried to give some insider insight into it all, and it was nice to be able to shed some light on how great some of the individual performances were. 

What’s next?

I’m going to take a good break, and let my body relax. The Team Pursuit is so intensely scrutinised – down to tenth of seconds, it can be a bit crazy!  It will be nice to have a meal and not worry about the protein intake – as soon as I was back in the UK, my husband and I went to our favorite Tapas restaurant in Manchester to enjoy Paella and Chorizo.  

What are your thoughts about competing in a third Olympics at Tokyo 2020?

I would love to be at Tokyo. Victoria Pendleton was 31 at London, and Bradley Wiggins was 36 at Rio so it’s not out of the question. But the Commonwealth Games 2018 is my goal now, we’ll look at targets along the way. It’s a question of can your body cope and are you motivated enough. 

Joanna Rowsell-Shand on Wattbike at photoshoot

Did you make much use of the Wattbikes in Rio?

The funny story is, when we arrived in Rio we wanted to take the road bikes out for a spin but my bike wasn’t set up ready to go. I headed down to the training centre and luckily there were a host of Wattbikes in there so I jumped on one to get my legs moving. So, my very first ride in Rio was actually on the Wattbike!