Shanaze Reade: A girl in a hurry

London Eye: She was red-hot favourite for gold in Beijing but crashed out. Now the BMX champion can make amends on her home track

There is something in Shanaze Reade's make-up that compels her to do things in a hurry. She talks quickly and she acts quickly. She always has. "I was so hyperactive [as a child]," says Reade animatedly. She grins and her hands shoot out of the sleeves of her parka where they had been sheltering. It feels like the coldest day of the year and the temperature has driven us inside from a BMX track in east London to the improbable sanctuary of a city farm. "I loved to run and go fast, always fast, it was always about speed. There was this hill at my school and I used to run down the hill as fast as I could and the teachers would think I was crazy. Sometimes I would do roly-polys down it. I just loved speed."

Getting to the bottom of the hill as fast as possible has become Reade's sporting raison d'être. The hill is now eight metres high and its descent signals the start of 30 to 40 adrenalin-filled seconds that take her round 400 metres of jumps and bumps at the end of which, if all goes to plan over the next six months, she will be a world and Olympic champion. Reade is already a BMX world champion three times over – as well as a double track world champion in partnership with Victoria Pendleton – but the Olympics is a painful (this is a sport where pain is often literal) gap on her CV.

Four years ago she arrived in Beijing regarded by all and sundry – those in the know and those along for the ride – as favourite to win the first BMX gold at the Olympics, an all-action heroine for an all-action sport. In the final she trailed Ann-Caroline Chausson and so made a last-ditch, desperate attempt to pass the Frenchwoman. It ended with Reade in a heap, nursing a damaged shoulder, a sprained wrist, a displaced pelvis and no medal. Silver would have been hers if she had been prepared to settle for it, but then that is not the way of her or her sport.

"When you're a kid you fall over, you get back up and you go through that. I got into BMX at 10, you fall off and you break your first bone and you're like, 'oh my God', then you get over that and you get used to it," says Reade, who over the years has fractured a knee, an elbow, a foot, ribs, her coccyx and a hand. "It's what you know. It does hurt – breaking a bone is never nice – but at the same time you think 'I've been there and I've got over that'. You mustn't dwell on it. If you live in that reserved way then you wouldn't do anything. I love my sport. That's what it is and that's what you're faced with."

In the build-up to Beijing, and with the plaudits of the likes of Chris Hoy ringing around the British camp, Reade was the subject of intense interest, in one part because she was a British golden prospect and in another because it was an exciting new sport and Reade is engaging and sparky company.

"Beijing was one of the worst points of my life," says Reade. "There are a lot of people out there who have had a lot worse things happen than losing an Olympic Games but to me that was very, very tough. But then you think sport isn't all about winning. You can't win every single race and you've got to know with the smooth there's going to be some rough times. You are going to lose some races in your career but mine so happened to be the biggest race of my life." She shrugs. "I've lived to see another day and I'm back for the next Olympics."

The next Olympics take place not far from where we talk at a long table at one end of the café of Hackney City Farm, having been politely asked to move from a sofa because this evening is veg box night and the farm staff need space by the door. It's not the usual venue to meet an Olympian, but it fits, unintentionally, with Reade's plan to keep a low profile during the build-up to the Games. She admits the attention got to her in Beijing and has used the experience to redress her preparation this time around.

"It has changed because of Beijing," she says. "If you had asked me this time four years ago, I would have said it was on my mind every morning. That's how it was and you burn yourself out. You get to the Games and you're like [she flops on the table] instead of letting it go with the flow. It's no more interviews after this. I want to keep more under the radar, I don't want to be in people's faces. Now you've got your big hitters, you've got [Jessica] Ennis, Tom Daley, all the cycling team, who have won every medal going. I'm this little fish in a big pond now, whereas before not lots of the team were tipped to win. I can blend more – that's my intention, anyway.

"I'm more experienced. It wasn't like I was immature before and I don't think I was ever naïve for a 19-year-old – but there is only so much you can have experienced in life by that age. Now just things like buying a house, understanding life in general, as well as going through a failure at such a big event, it all sets you up and you get that life experience to deal with an Olympics. Ann-Caroline was the best mentally prepared that day and it won her the Olympics. A lot of it is to do with the mind and now I have a lot more control over that."

Reade has moved from the family home in Crewe to Manchester – having bought that house near the velodrome where the BMX team are based, alongside the rest of Britain's cyclists. There is the same attention to detail that has helped the track team – to whose ranks Reade wants to return one day – harvest such success. "We are always looking for marginal gains," says Reade, "whether that be in training or performance, or with actual equipment." What they are she will not say. There have been suggestions she may even look to put on some weight for the Games in the belief that a heavier rider – within obvious reason – can be quicker around the course. The equipment is leaning against the wall next to our table.

The striking difference between the two forms of cycling comes in the bike. Every part of Reade's BMX, she points out, can be bought from a shop. She herself has transferable skills between the two disciplines thanks to an ability to reach high speeds quickly. But the track cycling programme is much more regimented than BMX. "My sport is a lot looser – it is more like an art, there's more expression," she says. As a child she took to BMX precisely because of the lack of structure that surrounded the sport.

Last year Reade won the test event over the London course – one she describes as the toughest she has ever ridden – to underline her status as a gold contender. This summer she will compete in the World Championships in Birmingham and then the Games.

"A World Championships is massive," says Reade. "I see the worlds on a par with the Olympics so I will not ride them with any reserve. I'm a firm believer in life that 'what will be, will be'.

"God forbid, if anything happens and I crashed out of the worlds and could not go to the Games, then that was mapped out for me. I don't let my imagination run too wild. It's six months and if you think about [London] all the time it can become too much. It's about the journey as well – not just about the destination. You need to enjoy everything along the way, and I have got a lot to look forward to."

Team 2012 Presented by Visa is helping to deliver Team GB and Paralympics GB – Our Greatest Team for 2012. For details visit : visa.co.uk/goldenspace

Olympic news you may have missed...

Britain's rhythmic gymnastic team will have to wait a few more days to find out whether they will be competing in the 2012 Games.

The team began an appeal after confusion over when they had to reach their qualifying target. They achieved the required score at the qualifying event last month but were told it was a day too late by British Gymnastics. Their appeal was led by Michael Beloff QC and the decision will be announced next week.

What's coming up...

Rebecca Adlington, Liam Tancock, Ellie Simmonds and the rest of Britain's swimmers will begin a nerve-jangling week at the London Aquatics Centre as they start the Olympic trials tomorrow.

The week-long competition will feature the top Olympic and Paralympic swimmers in the UK. Over the pond, American swimmer and 12-times Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps' 2012 preparations continue as he competes in the Columbus Grand Prix, which begins next Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

Who's up?

British women's hockey team The coach of one of the gold-medal favourites, Argentina's Carlos Retegui, has surprisingly tipped Britain to be their main rivals.

Pete Waterfield Enjoyed a much better week than his famous other half by winning bronze at the World Cup in London.

Who's down?

Tom Daley After a difficult week, the 17-year-old is headed back to school, where he will have to juggle his studies with his Olympic training.

Australia Terrible news, the Aussies are sending their smallest team since 1992 because so few athletes have qualified.

Brendan Meyer

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

SharePoint Administrator/Developer (C#, VB.NET, VISUAL STUDIO 2

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SharePoi...

European HR Director, London

£80000 - £95000 per annum: Charter Selection: A leading Global organisation Ja...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers