Katy Marchant interview: Fall in Tokyo Olympics fuels Leeds’s part-time farm hand to get back on track for Paris

The moments away from the heat of competition, outside the hour upon hour of relentless training, are some of the most important in the life of an elite athlete.

By Nick Westby
Saturday, 6th November 2021, 6:30 am

Those precious few snapshots of normality help to ground a sporting superstar, clear the head of the pressures of the process of trying to reach the ultimate goal.

For Katy Marchant, life on the family farm offers the perfect distraction to the day job of being an Olympic medal-winning track cyclist.

When she is not on the boards at the velodrome in Manchester or in the gym building up her strength, Marchant can be found helping out her husband, who is a farmer in Barwick-in-Elmet.

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Katy Marchant before the Olympics in Tokyo (Picture: SWPix.com)

“I just help out where I can,” she says. “Carting bails or driving the tractor on those busy days in the summer.

“When I started on the cycling programme I did live in Manchester for a bit, but for me I’m not a city girl, I just love the country and I’ve found I’ve got a better life balance being back at home.

“I’ve known (husband) Robert since I was really young and we’ve been together 11 years, so a long time before I was a cyclist.

“It was never an option to move to Manchester, so we stayed in Leeds and made it work.”

Great Britain's Katy Marchant reacts after a collision with Netherlands' Laurine van Riessen during the Women's Keirin Quarterfinals in Tokyo (Picture: AP)

That entails a lengthy commute along the M62 from the farm to the track, time well spent for Marchant who is able to switch her mind from Olympian to regular person.

“I quite enjoy the travel, when the M62 is good to me,” she smiles.

“It gives me a little bit of time to think about what the day is going to hold and a little bit of time coming back to unwind, and then when I get home I can be a completely different person.

“There’s times when I’m on the M62 just thinking ‘get me home’.”

Katy Marchant of Team Great Britain crashes with Laurine van Riessen of Team Netherlands (188) during the track cycling women keirin at the 2020 Summer Olympics. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Time spent commuting allows time to think about her career as a track cyclist, one full of achievements and still full of potential.

Marchant was a heptathlete in her younger days, heading south out of Leeds instead of West, going down the M1 to link up with Toni Minichiello’s heptathlon group that included Jessica Ennis-Hill.

It was Minichiello who suggested in early 2013 she try track cycling after seeing her power output on a wattbike.

Three and half years later she was an Olympic bronze medallist in the sprint in Rio.

Katy Marchant of Team Great Britain sprints ahead of Lauriane Genest of Team Canada during the Women's sprint in Tokyo. (Picture: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

“The bronze is still in the sock drawer, nobody can ever take that away from me,” she says.

Marchant was in a better place both form and shape wise in Tokyo where she attempted the keirin and sprint double.

But a crash in the early rounds of the keirin meant she returned home to the farm empty-handed.

“I’m really torn with Tokyo because leading into the Games, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure whether it would be my last one,” she continues.

“It was either I’d go to Tokyo and finish on a high and I’ll have been to two Games and been very proud of that. Or I would go to Tokyo, perform at my best but it would not be good enough, and I’d be forced to say to myself ‘you’ve given it everything but maybe you’re not good enough anymore’.

“So to go to Tokyo and finish sixth in the sprint, that was a great result after what happened in the keirin getting knocked off the bike.

Great Britain's Katy Marchant poses with her medal after winning bronze in the women's sprint in Rio (Picture: PA)

“I just felt my performances were not a reflection of how well I was feeling and how well I was going.

“Had I not got knocked off in the keirin, maybe I’d have won a medal. You never know, but I was feeling the best I’d ever felt.

“It was hard to then pick myself up for the sprint. I tried not to think too much about it because my body was hurting and I only had 12 hours to flip it round and go again.

“I was sitting with the psychologist after the keirin and we were laughing together, but I was crying at the same time.

“We’d spoke about a lot of what-ifs when planning for Tokyo; can I be the best I can be and still come up short, or go to Tokyo and win a medal.

“But we never spoke about if the opportunity would be taken away from me.

“That’s something that’s never happened to me before, so it was a kick in the gut.

“But that’s just sport, I have my feet firmly on the ground and I don’t live in a dream world.”

She does live in reality, one that convinced her that the Tokyo Olympic experience has left her with unfinished business.

“As soon as it happened, as soon as we left Tokyo, I didn’t feel totally satisfied with what I’d achieved,” says the 28-year-old.

“My body is in a good place, I’m fit and healthy and I just now feel that I’m not done with cycling yet.

“That’s fuelled the fire for me to want to try again.

“A lot of people ask what age do you think you peak, and for me it’s not about age, it’s about your career length, your fitness, everything you’ve been through.

“And touch wood, barring being knocked off my bike at the biggest event of the century, I’ve been really lucky with injuries, so I’ve got a young, healthy body. At least I feel I have anyway.”

Lockdown helped, as it did with many an athlete, offering Marchant a fresh perspective on training.

Instead of the commute to Manchester and being back on the boards, for three months she spent time riding a road bike for two or three hours a day, training by herself away from the intensity of the pre-Olympic regime.

“I’ve really enjoyed it, because with not being a born cyclist it wasn’t really something I’d previously really, really enjoyed,” continues Marchant, who ruled out a career as a road cyclist as some track stars do.

“But I’ve really relished jumping on the bike and having a two-hour ride.

“It’s been nice to build back into training and get a good fitness block, allowing me to be in a position that when we do restart on the track again I’m fit and healthy and in a good place to maximise that.”

So on to Paris 2024, where she hopes to add another medal to the sock drawer.

“I’m sure there’ll be a time when I’m not 28, when I am retired, that I look back and that medal will always be there. It is still one of the proudest moments.

“Sometimes it’s nice to look back and think ‘gosh, that did happen?’

“It’s all part of my journey, the story that is my career...so far.”