Flatmates go head to head for cycling gold

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The Independent Online

Rebecca Romero and Wendy Houvenaghel returned tonight to the apartment they share in the Olympic Village knowing that the only person who can stop them winning a gold medal is each other. The two Britons will race off for the women's individual pursuit title tomorrow after destroying their opponents with outstanding rides here today.

As the flatmates left the Laoshan velodrome Houvenaghel admitted: "We'll probably try to avoid each other. For both of us it's a case of just getting on with our jobs over the next 24 hours. It will mean locking ourselves away, getting our minds on the task ahead and getting on with it."

Romero agreed. "We're in the same apartment so we're inevitably going to cross paths, but I don’t think we'll see a lot of each other," she said. "We get on fine. We congratulated each other today and wished each other luck. I think we’re just pleased that it's two British girls up there."

The British team had planned for the possibility of the two riders facing each other in the final. Dan Hunt coaches both women but will not be at his usual trackside place tomorrow, advising them during the race as to whether they are on schedule.

"I think Dan will have a seat in the stands and delegate the task to two of the other coaching staff," Houvenaghel said. "He'll sit there and enjoy it. We discussed it as a team beforehand. For him to go with one or the other of us wouldn’t have been right. It's only fair for Dan to sit back and watch his two athletes grab the gold and silver Olympic medals."

Romero has booked her place in history by becoming the first British woman to win medals in two summer Olympic sports after securing a rowing silver four years ago. "I guess it's mission accomplished in one sense," she said. "I'll have a smile on my face about having a medal in two separate sports in two consecutive Olympic Games. There’s no other athlete in the village who's done that."

The individual pursuit is essentially a time trial, although it features two riders racing against each other from starts on opposite side of the track. As contests, the Britons' races were virtually non-events. Romero and Houvenaghel were so much quicker than their opponents that they caught them before the end of the 3,000 metres. Romero had qualified in the second fastest time behind Houvenaghel yesterday, but today it was the world champion who recorded the fastest time.

Romero has been pleased and even relieved with her form here. "Since the world championships I've had a run of bad luck, lots of ups and downs," she said. "I dealt with them, but a few weeks ago I was looking at not such a great performance at the Games. Now I look at how some of the best riders in the world haven’t performed here. The pressure of the Olympic Games does that to some people."

Houvenaghel, who was working as a dentist until she became a full-time cyclist two years ago at the age of 31, has improved her personal best time by more than five seconds over the last 12 months.

"I've lived like a recluse for the last two years and my life has been dedicated to pursuiting," she said. "I've gradually watched my times get better and the hard work and dedication has paid off. Having all the specialists in British Cycling to assist me has helped enormously. We have almost unlimited resources to help in our quest for medals."

Houvenaghel lives in Bodmin and faces a seven-hour drive every time she travels to Manchester to train at the velodrome there. "Rebecca and I train very differently and we only come together to train together on the track for a few weeks in the build-up to a competition," she said. "The rest of the work is done at our home bases – mine in Cornwall and hers in Manchester. Occasionally we have training camps together, but even then we do separate things."

Are the two women friends? "Rebecca's my colleague," Houvenaghel said.