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How school taunt set Otley's Lizzie Armitstead on road to Olympic glory
6:00am Wednesday 1st August 2012 in Other
Lizzie Armitstead was teased on to the school playing field at the beginning of her journey to becoming the first Great Britain medallist of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The 23-year-old won silver behind prolific winner Marianne Vos of Holland in the 140-kilometre road race on day two, which finished on The Mall, nine years after being discovered by British Cycling’s Jonny Clay on a visit to Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley .
Clay, a team pursuit bronze medallist in Sydney in 2000, was running the Yorkshire and North East talent team programme and, alongside Phil West, who still mentors Armitstead now, oversaw her first revolutions en route to the Olympic podium.
Clay, now British Cycling’s cycle sport and membership director, said: “She only came out because she had been teased by one of the lads in her year. Had she not been teased, that this guy was going to beat her, she wouldn’t have come out.”
A circle of cones was laid out, with pupils riding six laps as an endurance test and sprinting across the width as a sprint assessment and Armitstead, by her own admission not a natural athlete, beat her adversary.
From those first exertions around the school playing field, there were power assessments on a stationary bike and psychological assessments before she was inducted on to the regional talent team at the start of her progression to world, Commonwealth and now Olympic medals.
Armitstead – who will be bidding for a second medal in today’s individual time trial – is not the only member of the British Olympic team to have come through the scheme, with team pursuit riders Ed Clancy and Dani King, who skipped a maths lesson to take part, also progressing through the system.
Armitstead’s capability was not immediately obvious, but she stuck to her task.
Clay added: “She’s been very good for some years now, but what she did on Sunday was the best thing she has achieved.
“It was a superb ride and she was beaten by the best cyclist in the world.
“It was a proud moment for myself, Phil West and Claire Rushworth of the talent team.”
British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford said: “She’s been a model athlete since then, so her medal is richly deserved.
“I’m sure she’ll still be pinching herself. What an honour and what a great person to have the privilege of being the first person (to win a home medal at London 2012).
“She’s so dedicated, she’s such a bubbly, fantastic character, I can’t think of anybody better to achieve that.”
Today’s 29km time trial is not her favoured discipline, but she has an outside chance of another medal.
Emma Pooley, who played an integral role in helping Armitstead to road race silver, is also set to be in action.
The Beijing silver medallist favours an undulating route, due to her climbing ability, but the Hampton Court circuit is flat.
Pooley, world champion against the clock in 2010 and third last year, said: “It’s a different kind of course to the ideal one for me, but I did okay in Copenhagen last year, so it’s not a total disaster.
“I’ve been working on getting faster on flat, fast courses so it’s not the end of the world.”
Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins will begin the 44km men’s event as the favourite, with Chris Froome also in medal contention.
Wiggins won both long time-trials during the Tour and Froome was second on each occasion.