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News / July 31, 2008

From dentist to Olympic hopeful

by Guy Hiscott

Six years ago Wendy Houvenaghel, from Maghera in Derry, was enjoying life as a successful dentist in Cornwall, today she is on the verge of becoming an Olympic gold medallist.

Houvenaghel will be part of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team bidding for Team Pursuit gold as well as going for the individual title.

The 33-year-old only started track cycling in 2006, yet she finished fourth at the World Championships in Manchester earlier this year, as well as winning team gold.

‘Before I stumbled into cycling I hadn’t been on bike since school,’ said Houvenaghel, who will go head to head with world champion and team-mate Rebecca Romero in Beijing.

‘I didn’t do any sport. I spent five years studying to be a dentist and I was carving out a career in that,’ added Houvenaghel.

‘I married an Englishman and was settled and it was after I had just done the London marathon in 2002 that I decided I wanted to do something different and my husband (Ian) who was a keen cyclist suggested I do that.

‘He thought I looked quite strong on the bike and after a while I thought I would go and do a time trial and then after a few months I finished fourth at a national championship.

‘It was after that I decided to apply myself and see how far I would go.

‘Obviously I had a good basic fitness but I was also concentrating on my career as a dentist.

‘But I did well in the 2003 National championships and I was selected for the 2003 world championships in Canada and after testing by British cycling they decided I had the fitness level of a potential Olympian.’

‘I remember watching Seb Coe and Steve Ovett in their battles in the Olympics and they were inspiring but it was in 2004 watching Chris Hoy that I really got motivated.

‘I thought it was an amazing achievement and it was after that I decided to go for track sessions and it felt great.

‘So I decided to switch to the track. It’s incredible to think that I had this talent that nobody knew about. I’m 33 so it’s the normal story people expect but it just shows you that there are people walking the streets around towns and cities who have untapped talent.’

Having competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and won a World Cup event, she moved on to world team success this year but it’s individual gold that she craves.

‘It’s clear that the three medallists at the World Championships in Manchester, Rebecca Romero, Sarah Hammer and Katie Mactier, will be the three biggest threats to me.

‘I was just 0.7 seconds away from making the final. Now my preparation Beijing is the best that I’ve had.

‘I feel in very good condition, much better than before the world championships – I couldn’t have trained harder.

‘The good thing is that I go into the event knowing that I have beaten every one of the 12 and I know that I can beat them again and hopefully get the gold – that would be the ultimate dream.’