Childhood dreams come true for Team England cycling star

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Commonwealth Games - Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games - Glasgow, Scotland - 3/8/14 Cycling - England's Lizzie Armitstead during the women's road race Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Steven Paston Livepic (Action Images)

Ten-year-old Abi Smith spent primary school lessons doodling pictures of herself in national team colours, writes Tum Balogun.

Now the Ripon triathlete-turned-cyclist and avid painter is gearing up for her first major championship - a home Commonwealth Games no less.

The 19-year-old could not hide her delight in realising that childhood ambition this summer in Birmingham.

“I was actually on a track so it’s not quite the same,” she joked.

“It’s such an honour.

“Being in a Team England skin suit has been a dream since I was 10 so to be at the Commonwealth games which only comes around every four years is really really special.”

“My parents should be there, possibly my brother as well so that’s really exciting.

“Unfortunately my grandparents can’t be with me anymore but I’d like to think they’ll be proud.

“I’m doing it for them really.”

The track and road rising star has only recently devoted her full attention to cycling having completed her secondary school education last year. That added time and focus has allowed her to rapidly develop the skills of her craft.

Smith, who deferred a place at University to commit full-time, believes her abilities have come on in leaps and bounds but is aware of the ongoing progress she will have to make.

She said: “I know my body more and I am better physically adapted for cycling rather than both swimming and running.

“[I’ve] definitely got to know myself a lot better and [I’m] also discovering new ways to train, new things to work on but I’m still trying to figure out what kind of rider I am.

“Which I’ll continue to do probably for the next ten years.

“I always enjoy studying and the academic side so I’d like to incorporate both if I can.

“We’ll see what happens and take it as it comes, cycling is very unpredictable.”

Smith is one of over than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

The Yorkshire rider lent heavily on that support as she battled back from a nasty injury at the start of the year.

Though still very much at the beginning of her journey, Smith drew on the lessons she learned from the lay-off that she is ready to deploy in the future.

She said: “Mostly patience and not expecting to be suddenly able to jump back on the bike.

“It was something that was going to take a long time to get back from.

“It’s something to learn from and think about ways to deal with recovery better because this is the first big injury or illness that I’ve had.

“So I’ll know for next time if it does happen ways mentally to deal with it.”

This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 400 athletes, and having secured her place on the squad, Smith is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in her home country.

A self-described ‘roadie’, Smith will be competing in both the time trial and the road race and is grateful for her participation on the women’s tour which has seen her become accustomed to UK roads.

With clarity beyond her years she has prepared for the pressures of performing in front of a home crowd by consulting fellow teammates.

And is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to start her Commonwealth story. She said: “I think there’s always that pressure, it’ll never go away.

“We’re all in this together and we all want to do well, there’s no hiding that but at the same time I think we’ve got to go into it with the mindset we can achieve gold.

“Somebody can and that is our aim, we’re very driven and determined to get that.

“So I think the pressure is good, as long as it doesn’t get too much.”

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