The seven-time eventing Olympian met the Team GB track cyclist to talk about training, competing in the heat and hopes for Tokyo
Katy: Covid’s been a funny one – I’ve tried to make the best of a bad situation. We were at the World Championships in March 2020, the last qualification event for the Olympics, as Covid kicked in. That was a really stressful period because it was a struggle for me to get qualified as a rider without a strong team, even though I was finishing in the top five. But thankfully we got qualified, because then we came home and went into lockdown.
I was one of those people who said, “They’re never going to cancel the Olympic Games.” But actually, not travelling for a year and having 12 months’ stress-free training has been amazing and I’ve never felt better. What about you?
Andrew: My horse, Vassily De Lassos, is young in terms of the years left in front of him, so for me I felt it worked to my advantage. It’s given me the opportunity not to be pressured to try to get to a target point as quickly, and time to train step by step in a logical manner.
Katy: I’ve actually ridden horses all my life, my family have horses and my sister Amy Sherrard does a little bit of British Eventing. So to a certain extent, I understand the difference between riding a bike and a horse – I appreciate the bike always does as it’s told and the horse doesn’t always! So did Covid get in the way of your preparations?
Andrew: Covid combined with Brexit have been challenges. We’ve made many plans throughout the year, then 24 hours before we’re about to execute them, something has changed and we’ve had to cancel. It’s equally difficult for selectors and the high performance team – they have a structure they’d like everyone to follow to prove their point in selection, but that hasn’t happened.
Katy: We had no competitions for 12 months, since we went to the World Championships. We actually had a competition in Belgium five weeks ago, but somebody on the plane home tested positive so we all had to self isolate. After that, we decided not to travel before the Olympics, because it’s just too risky. We can’t afford to have two weeks off training.
Andrew: Have you been vaccinated?
Katy: Yes, but not through the sport – through the job of a family member.
Andrew: I’m 61 – I was almost in the first round!
Katy: I’m 28 and I’m one of the senior members of the team. There’s a couple of people who are in their thirties and are travelling to their fourth or fifth Olympics. You won’t find any cyclists doing seven Olympics!
Andrew: What would be the average age of your team?
Katy: Probably around 25. They say you peak around 30 but it’s not necessarily age, but how many years of full-time training you’ve done. I was a heptathlete and I only started cycling when I was 21, so I started my sport really late compared to a lot of people. Many cyclists are born into cycling families. It’s not a really accessible sport, particularly on the track side.
Now I’ve been training for six years and one of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced with the postponement is keeping my body in one piece. My knees hurt when I get out of bed! It’s a low impact sport so you’d think your body would be OK but because I’m a sprinter, 70% of my training is done pumping iron in the gym. I lift a lot of heavy weights and females tend to get back injuries, knee injuries. The training on the bike is dead easy; it’s the stuff that comes with it that’s really hard.
Andrew: This is where I’m so fortunate with the sport I’m in – I rode my first championship 43 years ago.
Katy: That is crazy.
Andrew: I’ve got fantastic horsepower at the moment and in any sport there’s the balance between knowhow and physical ability. I feel that physically I’m still in very good shape, but I’ve now got a lot more wisdom.
Coaches and support teams
Andrew: How many coaches do you have?
Katy: My main trainer, Jan van Eijden, was a rider himself, so his expertise comes from his track craft, his technical skills on the bike. We have another coach who manages our strength and conditioning, and then we also have a physiologist who works with my wellbeing. But it’s led by my track coach, he’s the boss.
How about you? Are you your own boss?
Andrew: Unfortunately, yes! I have a jumping coach, Nelson Pessoa; a cross-country coach, Mark Phillips; and two dressage coaches, Dolf-Dietram Keller and Peter Storr. It’s comforting to me that all except Peter are older than me – for example, Nelson is 85 and his horsemanship skills, his understanding of viewing what the athlete is doing, what the horse is doing, are just incredible.
Katy: My coach is deemed quite old and he’s 44, whereas my strength and conditioning coach and physiologist are in their early thirties. In our sport, we have scientists, people studying for PhDs, whereas in yours it sounds more like people who have years of experience, as you say, in horsemanship, craft and relationships with horses?
Andrew: We also have strong contributors to the team such as vets and nutritionists and I have a personal trainer. Plus my equipment has all been biomechanically tested and proven to make a difference and assist the horse.
Katy: Do you have a nutritionist for yourself and the horse?
Andrew: Separate people!
Katy: Other than the manufacturer of my bike, it needs nothing – it just needs me to get on it. Whereas obviously your horse requires a lot more, so everything is essentially doubled, I guess.
The importance of conditions
Andrew: In Formula One, there’s a big difference between the tyres in different conditions – are you in the same situation?
Katy: It’s massive for us and a lot of Formula One guys are involved in our aerodynamic work. A lot of it is done behind the scenes and we then get given the kit. The optimum conditions in the velodrome would be as hot as possible, but just after a storm because then the air pressure drops really low and that means we can travel through the air faster.
We’ve been doing a lot of acclimatisation in heat chambers, because the humidity is high in Tokyo, and we also travelled out there to a competition in 2019 at the same time of year.
Andrew: I grew up in Australia, so I’m used to very warm temperatures, and I also took a horse to the Tokyo test event in 2019. Also being bald, I let the heat out through my head!
Katy: And what about horses? My bike is always fine whatever the temperature.
Andrew: It depends on breed – Vassily De Lassos has Anglo Arab in him and the Anglo Arabs and Arabs are very good in heat. If we have a warm day we work the horses and don’t think, “It’s too hot, I don’t want to do this,” so you start to acclimatise them.
Life in the Olympic Village
Katy: I remember being in Rio in the Athletes’ Village and my team-mate and I, both first-timers, thought it was incredible. But about 80% of the team had been in London, and said it was nothing compared to that.
The cycling in Tokyo is four hours away from the main hub so we were never going to be in the Village. Part of me was like, “I don’t know if it’s going to feel like an Olympics, we’re not going to be getting up and having breakfast with other sports,” but then obviously Covid hit and it’s not going to be like that any more.
Andrew: Every Olympics I’ve been to, I’ve always stayed in the Village. The great thing about that is I always know that the dining hall is open if I need something, I always know that there’s going to be buses that have the correct accreditation and right of way, there’s not going to be a disruption with getting into a venue.
Our sport has generally been early on, so then if there are certain things you’d personally like to do it’s easy to do them.
Katy: We’re right at the end – the last few days. We stayed in the Village for Rio and were there for 10 days pre-competition, then competed for four days, then flew home the day after. I’ve never experienced letting my hair down in the Village or watching other sports.
In Rio, we were miles from the dining hall but we just used to ride our bikes there every day. The first day, we rode the 5km down the road to the track, but we couldn’t get into the Olympic Park – we couldn’t find the entrance because we weren’t on an accredited bus.
Hopes for Tokyo
Andrew: What are you hoping for at this Games?
Katy: A gold medal! Going to Rio I’d only been in the sport two-and-a-half or three years, so it was a massive shock. Everything was towards Tokyo 2020 and getting selected for Rio was a golden opportunity to experience the Olympics before Tokyo.
When I came away with a bronze medal, the expectation changed quickly. The cycling team are very successful, I almost felt inferior for winning bronze because everyone else took gold medals home. The goal is definitely to win one, if not two, gold medals this year. What about you?
Andrew: I always find it a very difficult question because you have to go there with good ability and then everything needs to go right on the day. In our sport, as far an individual medal is concerned, I think you could name eight to 10 people who could win gold.
I hate to use the word luck because I think the more you train, the more you practise, the more you think about it, the more you dream about it, the less luck you need, but things do have to go right on the day.
I’ve been really privileged. I’ve been on three teams that have won gold medals. I’ve also won an individual silver medal and on that day, I could have easily won gold but I believe a bit of luck went the other way round.
Katy: I do find it a hard question if people say what are you expecting, because I think if you say you’re not going to win, that’s not very ambitious. I do think you’ve got to wake up that day feeling your best, everything has got to swing your way. I am capable of winning two gold medals, but like you said it’s all got to come together on the day.
A lack of spectators
Katy: Do you think it’ll make a difference having no international spectators?
Andrew: Spectators don’t inspire me. If you’re doing a victory lap and you’re aware of the crowd applauding, then it’s wonderful to share it with them and you try to thank them in the appropriate ways, but the inspiration comes from within and so spectators or no spectators, it’s still the same drive from me.
Katy: I feel the same – so many people have said it’s going to be rubbish, but I can’t tell you whether there are two spectators or 10,002 spectators when I’m racing.
Andrew: You just look a bit stupid when you wave to the crowd and there’s no one there!
Katy: I’m not very good at that bit anyway, I always feel embarrassed! I’d rather just celebrate when I get home.
Andrew: My parents only came to two of my Olympics. I told them, “If you want to meet the other athletes and see me, don’t come to the Olympics – I can’t get to you, you can’t get to me. Come to a small event in the UK, you’ll meet all the same guys.”
I’m sure we could stay talking all evening, but I’ve got another two horses to ride.
Katy: Wednesday is my day off training – I just have an easy session, one hour on the road this morning. I’m going to Pilates later on.
Andrew: I might change sports – I might try cycling, then I can take a day off each week! I might be just over the age limit…
Katy: I reckon we might make an exception – we could swap for a bit. Your knees are probably healthier than mine, but I’m not sure I could ride that many horses in a day…
This exclusive feature can also be read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 17 June
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