Female athletes get stereotyped, and Britain's Olympic cyclist, Victoria Pendleton, is under no illusion of the effect that can have. "Quite a lot of women in sport tend to take on an aggressive character," she says in the BBC documentary Cycling's Golden Girl. "I never lost that sense of being female and wanting to retain my femininity." Her carefully cultivated image reflects that desire.
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In a magazine article published in the run up to the London's 2012 Olympics, Victoria's tumbling dark tresses and porcelain features peered out seductively. In a few weeks that same face will be contorted in the determined pursuit of gold. Besides the track cycling in which she excels, Victoria's speciality is mixing glamour with guts and glory, proving that you can be womanly and still scale the heights. She's unabashedly emotional, and it's not uncommon for tears and tantrums to crop up during her brutal training sessions. But she's more than earned the right. At 31, Victoria's CV is scorching hot – featuring eight world titles, dustings of gold and silver from the Commonwealth Games and an MBE awarded in 2009.
It's an impressive repertoire for the girl who learned the ropes pedalling furiously after her relentless father Max, himself a former national grass-track cycling champ. The crowning glory is a gold medal from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she triumphed in the Individual Sprint Event. But despite the flags and patriotic support, Victoria stood on the winners' podium feeling abandoned and alone. The golden girl had dared to fall in love on the job, and began a relationship with Scott Gardner, one of the cycling team's most popular coaches.
Team spirit plummeted when their relationship came to light and Scott resigned from his post. Victoria's team mates blamed her for the loss of a valued mentor. "Winning the gold medal should have been the happiest day of my entire life and it just wasn't," she confessed "Everyone was so angry that Scott and I had fallen in love. It was so unprofessional – we were a disgrace and had betrayed everybody."I need to do him proud at the London Olympics, so I can say that it wasn't in vain and to prove that it was all worth it."
After the summer, Victoria will bow out of the sport on home soil, making the capital's Olympics a poignant last chapter. But where professional achievement ends, personal bliss begins, and the stunning brunette is planning a summer wedding with the love of her life. "The idea of running away with Scott and living happily ever after, that makes me happy. I still like the idea of happy endings like that," she says.
Report: Andrea Maltman