Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Emma Pooley

Although I know very little about cycling, I would like to express my admiration for Emma Pooley, a key member of the British team in the last two Olympic Games.
Emma was born in October 1982, brought up in Norwich and educated at Trinity Hall college, Cambridge, where she graduated in Engineering. She was originally a cross-country runner, and gained a “Blue” for triathlon; only taking up cycling seriously after a foot injury forced her to train on an exercise bike. She hardly has the physique of a top cyclist, being very small (5 feet 1 inch high, and weighing less than 8 stone), which means that she sometimes has difficulty generating the sheer power needed on the flat, but has the compensation of making her one of the very best hill-climbers in the world.

Emma currently lives in Zurich, where she is studying for a Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering at ETH university. Her supervisor (Sarah Springman, herself a noted triathlete) is, she says, is “very understanding”, allowing her to spend the winter training in Australia.
She joined a professional team in 2005 and first represented Britain at the 2007 World Championships. In the 2008 Olympics her role in the road race was tactical, setting it up for Nicole Cooke to win the event, but Emma then came into her own in the Time Trial, where she took second place and a silver medal. There was a reprise of this in London this year, where she again helped to protect the sprinters (we all remember Emma leading the peloton over Box Hill) and thus set up Lizzie Armistead’s second place. But Emma was unable to match her Beijing success in the Time Trial: the terrain was too flat to play to her strengths, and she finished sixth.
At the World Championships in Holland in September, Emma was extremely disappointed with her performance (4th in the time trial, 15th in the road race, and leading her sponsorship team to 3rd place in the team event), though in fact this was far better than was managed by any other senior British cyclist, male or female. She said she felt she had “disimproved” over the past year, and began to talk about taking a year off from the sport, or even retiring completely, to concentrate on her academic studies; which, she tells us, concern mining waste and related matters.

She is very forthright at interviews. Her disappointment at not winning comes through strongly, though she has never ever voiced a word of criticism at a team-mate, or even complained about the conditions; instead she invariably places the blame on herself, for not doing better. On the other hand, she does not hide her anger at the lack of official encouragement for women’s cycling, and with good cause: her many successes outside the Olympics have generally been ignored by the media, all the teams she had joined have quickly folded, and the financial rewards for the women are pitifully small compared with those available for the men (though cycling, sadly, is by no means unique in this discrimination: see also women’s cricket, football, etc).

Emma is clearly a serious-minded and highly intelligent lady. As well as her academic achievements she speaks several languages, and has made a video for Amnesty International, appealing for help for Fatima Hussein Badi, held without trial in the Yemen accused of murdering her husband, and threatened with rape if she does not confess. We could do with more people like Emma in professional sport! If she does retire, her motives will be understandable, but she will be greatly missed.

Here are a few pictures of Emma.
Postscript: Happily, Emma decided not to retire quite yet! She won two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games this summer, and also completed her Ph.D. Only now has she decided to give up competitive cycling. Instead, she intends to concentrate on Triathlon!

January 2015: Emma was on the winning team of "Celebrity University Challenge" for BBC television, representing her old college of Trinity Hall, Cambridge!  



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