Jason Kenny leans over a dry stone wall high in the Lancashire Hills, gazes over the uncompromising moorland surrounding him and, for the first time since the Olympic Games ended, reflects on the past, few, life-changing weeks.
It is a time that has seen him selected over the great Sir Chris Hoy for the single berth in the Team GB individual sprint, a huge decision vindicated when he took gold to add to the team sprint gold he, Hoy and young Phillip Hindes won, and with these two titles added to the gold medal acquired in the team sprint and silver in the individual sprint where he lost the final to Hoy in 2008, Kenny is already the tenth most successful Olympian of all time, all at the age of just 24 years old.
And now he and double Olympic champion Laura Trott, whose relationship going since June was exposed when their public kiss on Horse Guards Parade whilst watching the Olympic beach volleyball alongside Prince Harry and David Beckham was published in the media, have become British sport’s new golden couple.
“A lot’s happened, hasn’t it?” Kenny says, shaking his head and smiling. “I’m not complaining, though. I couldn’t be happier. And there’s a lot more to come.”
It was in March that Kenny beat Hoy in the world championship individual sprint semi-final only to lose out in the final to his nemesis, France’s Gregory Bauge. With the world cycling governing body, the UCI, implementing after Beijing a one rider per country per event, with some in the sport believing it to prevent another British dominated Olympics, it produced a straight shoot-out between Hoy and Kenny, teammates and often roommates.
Kenny would win the day, but he was far from certain he had previously curried cycling’s Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton’s favour.
“Both Chris and I wanted the single spot going in the individual sprint and we pushed each other really hard in pursuit of it, whilst remaining good friends,” Kenny explains, with his beloved home town of Bolton in the distance below the hills.
“I had no idea who was going to get the nod because we were recording personal bests after personal bests. I guess we drove each other on. Two weeks before the Games Shane called and asked me to have a meeting with him and Dave.
“My first reaction was that I was in trouble, and then my second was that they were going tell me Chris had been selected, which is why it had not been said over the phone. The first words Shane said were that they had gone with me. I didn’t know what to say Chris when I saw him at training the next day but, thankfully, he shook my hand and said well done. That was it. I’d come second at the worlds, don’t forget, so it was hardly a case of job done.”
Winning the Olympic team sprint gold a fortnight later boosted Kenny’s confidence for the individual title. “We couldn’t believe how well we went, considering we qualified fourth best at the worlds before being disqualified. Winning the gold was a surprise. Blowing the world record apart was unbelievable. That’s when I knew I was on for another gold medal.”
In his path in the final at the Olympic Park velodrome was Bauge and this is when Hoy, inadvertently, played his part. “After I had won the first leg we had 20 minutes to recover and prepare for the second leg,” Kenny recalls. “That’s when I became Chris Hoy. I said to myself that there was no way Chris would lose the second leg. He has too much of a killer instinct about him, as he showed when he beat me in Beijing. He’d kill Bauge off. I had to do the same.”
Facing a Kenny who had smashed the individual sprint world record in the heats enhanced by the spirit of Hoy, Bauge stood no chance and lost again, and the normally shy, quiet Kenny, now a triple Olympic champion, found the spotlight was fixed on him. The night before he and Hoy had calmly watched the Olympics on TV, seeing other medallists interviewed by the BBC. “We didn’t talk about my day ahead at all,” Kenny reveals. “But when I left to go to work Chris simply said: “Good luck.”
Twenty four hours’ later it was very different. “I went back to our room briefly to shower and change before more TV interviews and Chris was there smiling, and with his arms out. We hugged and he said well done.”
Did Kenny think Hoy would have won individual gold, too, if he had been selected over the Lancastrian?
“Without a doubt,” is the answer.
Two days later Kenny was spotted at the beach volleyball with Trott, fresh from adding the omnium gold medal to the team pursuit title. For a private person kissing the new queen of the velodrome in front of Beckham and next to Harry was perhaps not the wisest of moves.
Kenny laughs. “Not really, no,” he concedes. “But we were just so happy. We’d talked about winning four golds between us at the Games, and we pulled it off. We’d had a few beers and were letting our hair down. It’s a wake up call, though. We’ll have to be a little more private in future.”
What has he learnt from the precocious 20-year-old? “Mainly how to set up and use twitter,” he explains. “And that the sky’s the limit for her. If she stays fit and focussed then what she could achieve as an Olympian is off the scale. The good thing is I have one more gold than her, which I keep reminding her. I’m going to have to work very hard to maintain that advantage.”
The pair appear to have found a way to become champions without distractions, and still enjoy themselves like any other young couple. “It’s not that difficult,” Kenny explains. “When we’re in racing or training mode then that’s what we’re in. We both totally get that. At the Games she was in one apartment and I was in another so the last thing we’d be doing is bothering each other on days before and during competition, save for the odd text. Besides, there are other athletes to think of as well.”
We may be seeing quite a bit more of the golden couple standing on podiums around the world. Kenny, quite clearly, has acquired the taste.
“I couldn’t believe it when I found out I was already the tenth most successful British Olympian of all time. That’s good, but it can be better.”
How much better?
“It can be number one, can’t it? That’s what I’d like, and that’s what I’ll aim for. Chris was still winning golds aged 36 and that’s miles and miles away. I’ve only got one world title so far as well, so I just want to win and keep on winning.”
So that means his goal, having taken the individual spot off Hoy in London, is to one day beat the Scot’s Olympic gold medal tally of six, after his team sprint and keirin triumphs in Stratford, and become, at least statistically, the greatest British Olympian of all time.
Jason Kenny smiles as he hops on to his home-made bike and prepares to free wheel down the hill back to Bolton.
“You’ve got to aim high,” he replies. “And I’ve got plenty of time on my side.”