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Laura Kenny: Britain's most successful female Olympian retires from cycling

Dame Laura Kenny, Britain's most successful female Olympian, has announced her retirement from cycling.

The 31-year-old won five Olympic golds and seven World Championship titles in a distinguished career on the track.

She gave birth to her second child in July and had previously been targeting a fourth Olympics in Paris this year.

"I always knew deep down I would know when the right time was," said Kenny in an exclusive interview with BBC Breakfast.

"I have had an absolute blast but now is the time for me to hang that bike up."

Kenny, who is married to former cyclist Sir Jason Kenny - the most decorated British Olympian, added: "It's been in my head a little while, the sacrifices of leaving the children and your family at home are really quite big and it really is a big decision to make.

"More and more, I was struggling to do that. More people asking me what races was I doing, what training camps was I going on - I didn't want to go ultimately and that's what it came down to.

"I knew the minute I was getting those feelings. Once I said to Jase, 'I don't think I want to ride a bike any more', I started to feel relief."

Kenny gave birth to her first son, Albie, in 2017 after which she returned to cycling, eager to prove athletes could juggle the demands of sport with motherhood.

After a miscarriage in late 2021 and an ectopic pregnancy just months later, the Kennys welcomed their second son, Monty, in 2023.

Earlier in March, British Cycling performance director Stephen Park said Kenny had only a "slim chance" of competing in Paris.

"I was getting these hesitant feelings," said Kenny.

"Going on to win another gold medal, as much as I would love to do that, it wasn't giving me the energy I wanted any more, it just wasn't.

"I wasn't thinking, 'I really want to go on and win one'. I was thinking, 'I really want to stay at home with the children'."

Kenny said the logistics of being on the road with Albie during her bid to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo - delayed to 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic - were very stressful.

"Taking Albie around the world, travelling around the world with him and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics was absolute carnage," she told Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.

"I think Jason and I had this way of painting this really beautiful, easy picture and the picture that everyone wants: you can have a baby, you can come back and you can go on to win a gold medal - and it looks easy, and I'm telling you, it was far from easy, it was absolute carnage.

"And there were so many sacrifices along the way; there were so many flights I had to book here, there and everywhere. It was expensive.

"It worked, yes. But it didn't come without some serious heartbreak and sacrifices."

Kenny's glittering career

Already a three-time world champion by that point, Kenny burst into public consciousness by winning gold in the women's omnium and team pursuit at the London 2012 Olympics.

Kenny said that was the "absolute highlight" of her career, with the 2012 Games a life-changing two weeks during which her relationship with Jason also became public.

"I never thought I would go to a home Games, let alone go on to win two gold medals.

"When I look back, I'm like 'wow, those two weeks did really change my life'."

She repeated the omnium and team pursuit double four years later at the Rio Games, becoming the first British woman to win four Olympic titles.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Kenny won team pursuit silver, before she and Katie Archibald became the first Olympic champions in the women's madison, a new event at that year's Games.

It made Kenny the first British woman to win a gold medal at three consecutive Olympics and the most successful female cyclist in Games history.

A fourth Olympics in 2024 was her plan but Kenny had yet to return to team training before announcing her retirement. April's Track Nations Cup in Canada would have been her last opportunity to earn the points needed to qualify.

She won her last world champion rainbow jersey in 2016, on the London track where she made her name, in the omnium and scratch race.

Kenny is also a 14-time European champion and won three medals, including two golds, at the Commonwealth Games.

The second of those golds, in the scratch race in Birmingham in 2022, came a day after she thought it would be her final race amid a "serious confidence crisis".

Andy Anson, chief executive officer of the British Olympic Association, said what Kenny had achieved is "nothing short of extraordinary".

He added: "Her talent, dedication, resilience and brilliant personality will have inspired many and I have no doubt will continue to do so over years to come.

"She is a true legend of British Olympic sport."

What's next?

Kenny, made a Dame in the 2021 New Year's Honours, said she was "open to doing anything and everything" in the next chapter of her life.

As for this summer's Olympics, Kenny said she hopes to be at the Games "in some capacity".

Speaking earlier in March, before the news of Kenny's retirement, Park said he believed she would have "an ongoing involvement" with the GB cycling team "for years to come".

"There's nothing set in stone but there are things I'm so interested in doing," said Kenny.

"Something to help the younger generation, whether that could be some kind of academy.

"I could never be a coach because that's just too much pressure for me, but maybe something in the background that would help the youngsters have the opportunities I had."

'Thank you for being you'

Kenny's former team-mates as well as other stars from the world of sport, sent well wishes via Instagram, with many calling her a "legend" of cycling.

Joanna Rowsell, who won team pursuit gold with Kenny in 2012 and 2016, congratulated her on a "fabulous career", and added: "But most importantly thank you for ensuring there was never a dull moment on the journey."

Dani Rowe, who was also part of the team pursuit quartet in London, wrote a long tribute to their friendship, highlighting the fact Kenny had pushed her to be "the best I could be".

She added: "But most of all thank you for being you. You haven't changed one bit. Even after all of your success. I'm SO proud of you, on and off the bike."

Four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome called Kenny's career "spectacular", while 2012 Olympic heptathlon gold medallist Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill said: "You are such a legend, always will be and you will continue inspiring."

Road cyclist Mark Cavendish echoed Ennis-Hill's words when he wrote: "The way you lead and grow a group of people has always been so, so impressive."

The 38-year-old, who will seek to break the Tour de France's stage wins record later this year, added: "Thank you for everything you have done for British sport."