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Ireland's Lydia Boylan wins silver at the World Cycling Track Championships.
Ireland's Lydia Boylan wins silver at the World Cycling Track Championships.
Image: Guy Swarbrick

'That medal is the outcome of a lot of hard work, not just 100 laps I did on the track'

Lydia Boylan discusses her world silver medal success, dealing with disappointment and uprooting her life in search of Olympic glory.
Mar 10th 2019, 7:15 AM 2,462 3

ELITE SPORT IS all about readjustment.

How you deal with adversity and what changes you make when things don’t go to plan.

Last weekend, Irish cycling celebrated its first medals at a World Championships event since 2014 when Martyn Irvine was the leading light on the track scene.

Mark Downey was the first to earn a podium place and bronze medal in the points race. Then it was down to Lydia Boylan.

Knowing the success of her teammate, she went out in front of the roaring crowds of Poland’s BGŻ Arena and produced a performance unlike any other in her career.

The result was a first medal – a silver – on the world stage and the added satisfaction of knowing that things didn’t go exactly to plan in the build up.

“I usually don’t do the stand alone races, because the omnium is four events in one day,” she tells The42.

“It was actually my first time getting to do the points race.

“I was disappointed not to be selected for the omnium, which would have been my number one target event.

Sport isn’t always nice and I had to take that selection on the chin. I knew I got the two races so I put all my energy into that.

“I knew I’d done the work, so I had confidence in that. It was about going in and doing what I knew I was capable of.

“In the omnium, the points race is usually my most successful event – so I had a lot of confidence from that.

I tried to savour the opportunity to do it as a standalone event. The competition in the omnium – it being an Olympic event – is so high.

“The competition is high at any world event, but the omnium in particular because it is an Olympic event. It’s got the four events over one day, so the results can be so unpredictable.”

Boylan was instead put forward for her successful points race and for the madison race.

The competition, she says, needs to be viewed in a positive light in the bigger picture of Irish cycling.

That’s the difficult side of a growing sport. You’ve got more people competing and going for those positions.

“Only one person gets to race so there’s always someone who’s going to be disappointed.

“This time it was me. Sometimes as an athlete you have to put that disappointment to the side to focus on the opportunities you are given.”

Lydia Boylan Track Cycling World Championships Homecoming A victorious Lydia Boylan returns to Dublin. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

And she did just that.

In front of the world and 18 months out from an Olympic Games in Tokyo, Boylan savoured every moment of her success.

“It’s all still a roundabout of emotions at the minute.

The day was just filled with so many special moments. It’s nice that so many of them were caught on camera. To be able to look back now and relive all the different parts of it is pretty amazing.

“I had gotten a few messages in because everyone knew I was doing the same race that Mark was saying: ‘You can do the same!’

“You want to be confident but to actually pull it off is quite remarkable. To have success across the track team has been incredible.

“And that’s why winning the medal was quite emotional for me.

I was thinking about all the preparation that goes into it. The race itself and getting the medal – that’s the outcome of a lot of hard work, not just those 100 laps I did on the track.

“It’s the thousands of laps I’ve done in the years and months prior to that. All the people that are around us to get us to that place.

Dealing with the ups and downs. God bless the people listening to me moaning about having to ride a bike. There’s a lot bigger problems in the world.

“But I’m sat here moaning that I haven’t been selected for the omnium or that I had a bad day training.

Or that I miss home or my family. That I can’t do certain things because I’m so focused on cycling.

“I can’t have a ‘normal life’. All those people and all those training sessions that get us to that point. It’s nice to be in a happy place with a medal and be able to sit and reflect on that.

Hopefully I can make it worth it for all those people who suffered through it with me.”

_WP52966 (1) The weeks and months leading up to her medal success made Boylan's podium finish all the more special to her. Source: Guy Swarbrick

The sacrifice stretches beyond the hours she has put into her training and her time in camp.

The 30-year-old recently made the move to Irish cycling’s training base in Mallorca on a full-time basis. Leaving behind the comforts of family and friends, she has decided to try and make the sunnier climes of Spain her new home.

“I have my own place there. I come home to Dublin as much as I can, but I try make Mallorca like my home.

The big side of it is financial. I can’t have two homes. As hard as it is to commit to making Mallorca home, I needed to have a base there.

“Somewhere I can go in and out of camps. It sounds silly, but when I’m training out there it feels so much better knowing I have my own bedroom and my own living room.

“I have my own stuff there. I don’t have to pack up every time I leave for an event. When I go back to Mallorca, I’ll be going back to my own apartment.

It feels like it’s mine. Whereas heading out to the Cycling Ireland house, it never felt like home. It’s not home.

“It’s just somewhere you’re staying with everyone else. You don’t really have your own space. Those side of things can be very difficult when you have to spend a lot of time out there training.”

Monumental shifts in lifestyle are vindicated when results like this come and her commitment to cycling is apparent in the changes she has made in search of a place in Tokyo.

A podium place also impacts on how much support she’ll have as she chases qualifications to the Games.

“I’m lucky that my results get a decent level of funding [from Sport Ireland]. That can only stretch so far – so I need to make sure I’m investing in the right things.

With the goal being Tokyo, I said to myself that for the next two years or year and a half, I’m going to be out here a lot. I need to make sure it’s as comfortable as possible.

“The bottom line is this result means I get a lot more funding next year.

“I won’t deny it, it means I’ll feel a lot more comfortable. It makes investment in my performances a lot easier.

“I don’t have to question whether I’m going to spend money on a helmet or something like that.

The helmet that I race in is about £500. I crashed in it recently at a previous World Cup, so I had to replace it. So that’s £1,000 on spending on helmets alone.

“All those things add up. You know, those [cycling] shoes aren’t cheap. All those bits of equipment that I can now say: ‘Right, I can get the best that I need so it adds to my performance.’

Unfortunately in any sport, money talks. The amount of money you can invest in your performance most of the time means you’re going to do better.”

Sport Ireland operate funding by deciding which athletes to put money behind and categorise them in the following headings: Podium, World Class and International carded athletes.

Podium athletes receive €40,000 in funding, while those carded as World Class receive €20,000. International carded athletes receive €12,000.

In 2018, Boylan was categorised as World Class, but could see her funding double heading into 2020.

2019 Track Cycling World Championships The result could prove life-changing for Boylan when it comes to her preparations for Tokyo. Source: Guy Swarbrick

A weekend of success

Not content with celebrating the results of her own team and her own performance, Boylan was quick to heap praise on her fellow Olympic hopefuls in athletics at European Championships in Glasgow.

“It was crazy on Sunday night to hear of the success – especially for me as a female athlete – of Ciara Mageean. I don’t think Irish female athletes get the recognition they deserve sometimes.

“Considering the work we put in, it was quite special to share the weekend with other Irish athletes.”

And while she admitted she admired the individualistic elements of the achievements, she was quick to point out that a lot of what goes into the preparation comes from a collective team effort.

“We have so many good staff who can keep us temperamental athletes in a good mental state to be confident going into the races.

The physical side of things is a lot more controllable. Being in the right headspace going into these races – especially in a World Championships where it’s all on the line in one race – is hard. That’s where your wonderful support staff come in.”

This past week constituted a well-deserved break for Boylan and a chance to return to Ireland to see her family before the focus shifts onto her training once again.

Her life now will be geared toward making it to the Games, but the results and sacrifice she has shown in the last year is more than enough evidence to prove she can make it all the way to the top.

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