By Shane Thomas
In the lead-up to London 2012, it's oft forgotten that the Olympic Games are a sporting event that tends to be a launching pad for the next generation of sporting superstars. Unlike the World Cup, Wimbledon or the Superbowl, the Olympics lends to an explosion of stardust for previously unknown names, rather than underscore the skills of the marquee athletes whom we already know. It's what the Spanish call llegada.
By the end of the Olympics, the name Laura Trott has a strong chance of being one of these new aforementioned stars. Recently turned 20, Trott went into April's World Track Cycling Championships as the baby of the British team, a young tyro with bags of potential, but little expectation. She left the Championships as a double World Champion, winning gold in the omnium, and in the women's team pursuit.
Trott's success wasn't a surprise to people involved in British cycling, but the timing certainly was. For a few years now the mention of her name would cause people to have a sharp intake of breath, before proclaiming Trott as a coruscating talent - for the future. The Rio Olympics in 2016 was pencilled in as her time to shine. It seems that the Hertfordshire native isn't one to wait for glory.
What makes her recent performances all the more impressive are the specific disciplines in which she competes. It would be easier to understand Trott's preternatural ability if she was simply a freakishly fast talent - which she is. But the team pursuit and (especially) the omnium require more than just pedalling really quickly. Both events demand a high level of awareness of the state of play with your teammates and rivals. Knowing the right moment to make your move is key. The sporting maxim about focusing on your own performance can go hang; placing yourself in a bubble in this instance, is a sure-fire way to defeat. To put it in American football parlance, you need to combine the dynamism of a wide receiver with the mental acumen of a quarterback.
This is all in contrast with Trott's bubbly disposition. She may be ruthless on the cycling track, but in interviews it's hard to separate her from many other 20 year old girls. Carrying the fresh-faced enthusiasm of someone who has her whole life ahead of her, you'd be forgiven at first glance for thinking she was about to go travelling to Thailand on her gap year, rather than about to compete in the globe's biggest sporting occasion.
It's incredible to think that Trott's peak shouldn't arrive for another four years. But make no mistake. The infamous sporting aphorism may state that, "It's not the winning, it's the taking part", but Trott's not going to the Velodrome for the 'experience'. She's there for gold, and nothing else.
How does one reconcile being so - by her own admission - "happy-go-lucky" and fiercely competitive? It's clear that Laura Trott can be both. At such a young age, she's already a lithe package of contradictions, which makes for one formidable cyclist. Nicknamed by one journalist as, "the smiling assassin", 2012 could be the year Trott smiles her way to Olympic gold, and could also be a good outside bet for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
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