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Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 15:25 UK

Gold medal pursuit

By John Haughey

Wendy Houvenaghel
Houvenaghel won a World Championship gold earlier this year

County Londonderry woman Wendy Houvenaghel will go into the Olympics as a medal contender despite not taking up the sport until the age of 27.

The 33-year-old only started cycling in 2002 to "keep my husband company during his cycling training rides" but her talent quickly became apparent.

Six years on and numerous British, World Cup and World Championship titles later, she is gearing up for Beijing.

"I'm really excited and really positive," the individual pursuit hopeful told BBC Sport.

"My preparations have gone really well and all that has added to my underlying confidence.

"I'd like to achieve the gold medal in Beijing.

"As regards the competition, the athletes that I'll be competing against, I've beaten them all before and there aren't going to be any competitors that are going to come out of nowhere.

"I'm very much looking forward to getting there and showing what I can do."

The gold is very much achieveable

Wendy Houvenaghel

The Upperlands woman's sporting background had primarily been in cross-country running and prior to taking up cycling, she had also run the London Marathon.

Such was the former Miss McLean's rate of progress in her new sport, within two years she had taken the decision to go part-time in her dentistry career.

By 2005, she was British Champion in the individual pursuit and the last three years have been a tale of steady improvement at both national and international level.

A silver medal at the World Cup meeting in Moscow in 2005 was followed by selection on the England team for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne a year later, when she finished sixth in the individual pursuit.

Cornwall-based Houvenaghel then took the decision in August 2006 to put her dentistry career totally on hold to become a full-time cyclist.

Her move has been vindicated by three World Cup pursuit triumphs over the last three years and her participation in Britain's team pursuit gold at this year's World Championships in Manchester suggested that she is bang on target for Beijing.

Houvenaghel was just out of the medals in fourth place in the individual event in Manchester but she is confident that she can move up the order in China.

"I've been world number one in the past and it's all to play for. The gold is very much achieveable," she said.

Wendy Houvenaghel
Wendy in action in last year's World Championships

"Beijing has been at the back of my mind since I started this project, two years ago.

"And to get to this stage in the condition that I'm in, is a great relief."

The county Derry woman believes the experience she has gained on the world circuit in recent years means she will be able to handle the inevitable Olympic pressures.

"Going through the whole procedure on the Olympic stage is just going to be the same as any other stage I have raced on.

"It will be a case of blocking out the distraction that it is in fact the Olympic Games."

Houvenaghel has been spending her final days of preparation ahead of the Games at the Newport Velodrome before she heads to China early next week.

"At this stage, it's all about getting out to the track after having done a big road base. I'm just doing really short intense efforts as opposed to the longer rides which can take up to three or four hours."

With Cornwall-based Houvenaghel's parents still residing near Maghera, she will have plenty of well-wishers in south Derry and throughout Northern Ireland for her Olympic challenge.

If she performs at her best, we could be seeing plenty of Wendy Houvenaghel in the years to come.

see also
Replay: Team pursuit gold for GB
28 Mar 08 |  Cycling
Hayles snatches road race title
29 Jun 08 |  Cycling
Pendleton ready for Olympic test
11 Jun 08 |  Cycling
Reade cruises to BMX world title
31 May 08 |  Cycling
Team GB for Beijing
01 Jul 08 |  Team GB
Cycling on the BBC
30 Jun 08 |  Cycling
Liam Killeen's mountain bike guide
02 Mar 06 |  Get Involved

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