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Family sacrifice was too much, says Dame Laura Kenny as she retires

Laura Kenny in Tokyo/Laura Kenny, Great Britain's most successful female Olympian, retires
Dame Laura Kenny won her fifth gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Dame Laura Kenny, Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian, said the “pain and sacrifice” required to carry on competing with two young children in tow was what convinced her it was time to quit, as she announced her decision to retire immediately rather than try to qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

Kenny made the announcement on her social media channels at 6am on Monday, and later admitted to BBC Breakfast: “It’s a relief to be honest. I’ve had the thoughts for a little while but I only made the decision 10 days ago. Now it’s out I can talk about it and it’s quite nice.

“I just kept getting this horrible feeling in my tummy like: ‘You don’t want to go there so why are you leaving the children to go there?’ And I thought: ‘No, I don’t want to be riding my bike any more. I’m just doing it because it’s all I’ve ever known.’ And so when I started getting these gut-wrenching feelings I thought: ‘That’s it. Decision made for me.’”

Kenny added that while she and her husband, Sir Jason Kenny, might have “painted a pretty picture”, behind the scenes it was “organised chaos”.

“It’s just such hard work, and what we have to put our bodies through is just so intense, so much pain,” she said. “I just couldn’t imagine putting my body through that again.”

Kenny’s announcement brings the curtain down on one of the most remarkable careers in British sport.

In total, the 31-year-old mother of two won six Olympic medals from three Games, tying her with dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin for most decorated British female Olympian of all time. But Kenny’s five gold medals and one silver medal make her the most successful.

More than the number of medals, it was the way in which she won them. Kenny (née Trott), 31, was famously born six weeks premature, with a collapsed lung, taking up sport as a child after her parents were advised to try to increase her lung capacity.

But after joining her local cycling club, Welwyn Wheelers, as an eight-year-old, she almost almost immediately started beating much older children, boys as well as girls.

Kenny belied her diminutive stature throughout her career – she stands just 5ft 4in in her cycling socks – inspiring her country time and again.

She first shot to prominence at London 2012, not only with her performances on the track, winning gold medals in the omnium and the team pursuit, together with team-mates Dani King and Joanna Rowsell, but off it, too, with her blossoming romance with track sprinter Jason Kenny capturing the public imagination.

The pair, sitting just behind David Beckham, were photographed kissing during the women’s volleyball final at Horse Guards Parade.

Team GB’s golden couple – the pair have a combined 15 Olympic medals, 12 gold and three silver – married in secret after Rio 2016, where Kenny defended both of her titles from four years earlier. They had their first son, Albie, in the summer of 2017, with Kenny returning to competition just six months later.

After the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games, where Kenny won a spectacular gold in the Madison with partner Katie Archibald, and a silver in the team pursuit, Kenny suffered a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy, precipitating a tough period in which by her own admission she struggled with her mental health.

Kenny admitted to feeling “lost” and “lacking in motivation” at the 2022 Commonwealth Games on home soil, but managed to win gold in the scratch race.

After giving birth to her second son, Monty, last summer, Kenny admitted it was going to be a “tough ask” to make it to Paris.

In her BBC Breakfast interview, Kenny added she would get stuck into “media things” and “doing work with youngsters” but ruled out being a coach like her husband, saying it was “too much pressure”.

She said she was looking forward to being able to devote her time to her children. “The chaos of it all, I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I’m just not in the mood any more,”she said.

“It has been one ride that I would not change. I’ve just had an absolute blast but now is the time to hang that bike up.

“I am so, so happy with my career. Now I’m sat here knowing it’s the right decision it almost feels like a relief.

“It’s been in my head a little while. Just the sacrifices of leaving your children and family at home was really quite big. More and more I was struggling to do that.”

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