VIDEO: Quest for Gold - Paralympic hero Jody Cundy reflects on incredible career as London 2012 looms
WITH less than a year to go until Jody Cundy takes to the track for London 2012, the Wisbech-born paralympic legend talked to The Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard about the highs and lows of his incredible career and his quest for gold next summer.
It wasn’t the most auspicious start to Jody Cundy’s life as a top class cyclist.
Having switched to the velodrome from a medal-laden career in the swimming pool, his first, faltering seconds as a world championship cyclist in the Swiss town of Aigle did not bode well for a successful transition.
To the amusement of some in the stands, Cundy failed to leave the gate for the 1km time trial (kilo), clattering to the floor in an untidy heap.
But within a couple of minutes, the triple Paralympic champion in the pool had silenced the doubters, and stamped his mark on a sport he would go on to dominate for years to come.
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“Luckily you get two chances to start,” he said. “In the second start I got up and running and broke the world record. All the people who were laughing at me because of the fall shut up pretty quickly!
“I was the first one to race so I had to watch everyone else try to beat my time. It was my most nerve-wracking time as an athlete.”
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That was in 2006, since when Cundy has racked up eight more world and Paralympic golds on the track and holds three world records.
Now, sitting in the board room at sponsor Adrian Flux Insurance, the 32-year-old from Wisbech is dreaming of the ultimate thrill of garnering further gold in his home games in 2012.
“London is going to be extra special,” he said. “To make an Olympics or Paralympics is the ultimate, and to win a gold medal and stand on top of the podium would be unbelievable in front of your family and friends who have travelled the world following you.
“To be in the prime of your career and fighting for medals in front of your home crowd - it’s going to unbelievable.”
Cundy, who was awarded an MBE in 2009, was born with a deformed right foot which was amputated at the age of three.
It was never going to hold him back.
“I don’t know any different to running around with an artificial leg,” he said. “At school I did pretty much every sport going and I always tried to be as good as everyone else - there was a lot of that when I was growing up, that determination to prove myself.”
It seems that sticky starts are a Cundy speciality, with his first swimming lesson, at the age of five, resulting in a fully-clothed parent rescuing him from the bottom of the pool.
Things quickly improved, however, and he was swimming for the King’s Lynn club at 10, and made his international debut six years later, representing Great Britain at the world swimming championships.
A decade of glory followed, with 14 international gold medals among 23 overall, before a chance ride on the boards at Newport Velodrome changed his sporting life.
“I went to Swansea to train at the high performance centre and had a go in the velodrome, where I was spotted by one of the British cycling coaches who said I had a bit of talent,” said Cundy, with typical modesty.
“I pursued it a bit more and entered the national championships at the end of 2005. It was only the third time I had been on the track and in the first race I broke the British record so I thought maybe I was OK at this.
“I was still swimming six days a week then doing training to learn how to ride the track properly. The coach had been sending my times to the team manager and he called me to say that I was going faster than the person they had in the squad.
“He offered me a trial to compete in the World Champs in 2006 and I beat the guy in the trial. I was offered a place on the GB team two days later.
“I was towards the end of my swimming career and had suffered a few injuries, so it was not a hard decision to make to retire from swimming and take up cycling.”
And that debut world record proved that it was the right decision; Cundy was to become a better cyclist than he ever was a swimmer.
And, as part of the all-conquering British cycling team training in Manchester, Cundy is in exalted company.
“When I train on the track, in most sessions I’m on with people like Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton. It’s just unreal - you see them on TV, you know how fast they are and there you are a few centimetres away from their back wheel and it’s hugely inspiring,” he said.
They must be equally inspired by his presence?
“I would like to think so. Being there in training everybody is chasing Chris because he’s top dog. All the guys underneath Chris chase him, and all the academy guys are chasing those guys.
“I am at about the same level as those academy guys, and there’s a really progressive competition pushing everybody forward at the same time.
“The top guys are always looking to find an extra 0.1 of a second, always competing against each other.
“To have that kind of competition in-house is brilliant and to witness and feel like you are part of it really does inspire you to do bigger and better things.
“It’s one of the only places in the world where you’ve got a training set up with so many Olympic and World Champions at the same time.”
As well as defending his kilo and team sprint titles, earned in Beijing, next summer, Cundy could also take part in the track pursuit and two road events.
“Road racing is a new area of cycling for me,” he said. “It’s completely different with 30 or 40 other riders all on the course using different tactics and the tight corners. It’s a new area for me.
“Some guys who I can beat on the track can go faster than me on the road. I’ve got a lot to learn,“ he said, on the back of two top 10 finishes in Sydney Road World Cup in his first competitive road races.
“If there’s an outside chance of me getting a medal they will enter me in the road race and the time trial.”
And after London, what then?
“My girlfriend’s getting really annoyed because I won’t give her an answer about that,” he said. “The truth is I don’t really know. As long as I’m still improving my cycling I will definitely be continuing after London.
“If I was fortunate enough to win there it would be the perfect place to sign off but if I can give the sport more I will keep going until there’s a natural time when I can call it quits.
“Eventually, coaching the development of the sport is an option, as long as I can take the advice on board and pass it to the next generation.”
But for now, the fastest Paralympic cyclist in history has his sights set on London, and gold.