Former team pursuit world champion Andy Tennant has said that elite sport is a “shit place to be at times” in response to claims by former Team GB rider Wendy Houvenhagel that she was denied the chance of an Olympic gold medal at London 2012.
Houvenaghel, silver medallist behind fellow Team GB rider Rebecca Romero in the individual pursuit at Beijing in 2008, was an unused reserve rider in the track endurance squad at London 2012, where Great Britain’s women won team pursuit gold as the event made its Olympic debut.
She said that her omission was “definitely not about performance” and that she did not believe that “the fastest team on the day were permitted to race,” as well as suggesting that her age at the time – 37 – was a factor.
Tennant is uniquely qualified to comment on missing out on becoming an Olympic champion at a home Games, because he suffered exactly the same experience as a member of the men’s squad who was not used in qualifying or the later rounds.
But speaking to Telegraph Sport ahead of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships which start in Hong Kong on 12 April, and for which he has been selected, he acknowledged that tough decisions sometimes need to be made.
“At the end of the day I’ve signed up for elite sport which we all know is shit place to be at times,” said the 30-year-old.
“We’re here to perform and win medals. We’re not here to be everyone’s friend and have a cosy coffee morning.
Speaking about Houvenaghel’s experience in London, he said: “She could have probably have gone into that squad and they still would have qualified but that wasn’t necessarily the fastest team so why would you put your second fastest team on to the starting grid?
“I don’t see how you complain or moan against a selection panel when they’ve just brought a team in that’s broken the world record.”
Tennant spoke about the independent review of British Cycling, ordered by UK Sport 12 months ago in the wake of allegations of bullying and discrimination of riders on the country’s World Class Performance Programme, and which is due to publish its report this month.
“Life’s not fair is it?” he said. “Life’s shit. It’s great being all cuddly and care bears and that sort of stuff.
“Some of us need more support than others. They shouldn’t be wasting their time on us – me and Wendy – when they’ve got four other guys who’ve got to go and win a medal.
“I would have felt really guilty if I’d taken the support staff and coaches’ time up and that had detracted from their performance,” he added.
“I’d have affected four other people and just being selfish and thinking of myself … I don’t think I should go the press and complain that I haven’t ridden.”
He also recalled a conversation with former Great Britain Cycling Team technical director Shane Sutton shortly before the March 2016 Track Worlds in London where he won silver in the team pursuit. Sutton would resign the following month.
“About two or three weeks before I was struggling so I texted Shane and asked if we could meet for a coffee,” he reflected.
“He had always said his door was open and I had never taken him up on that. I could see my Olympics slipping away.
“In my opinion when I asked for support it was there. At the end of the day I went to the big boss – not my coach, I skipped about four steps – and he was willing to take time out of his schedule and sit down for about and hour and half. I think it was a Starbucks in Wilmslow.
“And then I won a silver and a bronze at that World championships and a lot of that was through being able to talk to him,” he added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.