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Commonwealth Games Preview: Anna Meares

Expert
24th July, 2014
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If Anna Meares isn’t already one of your sporting heroes, your priorities are wrong.

Australia’s Commonwealth Games flag-bearer is a sporting national treasure, and in her fourth Commonwealth Games she’s yet again a hot favourite for multiple gold medals.

Fierce power, incredible speed, tactical genius would be enough to make her a star on the velodrome, but Meares’ incredible killer instinct puts her on the next level. She is a superstar.

What am I competing in?
Meares will be competing in two events in Glasgow: the individual sprint, and the team sprint where she will partner up-and-coming Aussie star Stephanie Morton.

Pencil in two certain gold medals, then.

Who’s my competition?
Obviously I was just kidding about the two certain gold medals. Expect some top quality competition from the English and Malaysian riders, with Canada also likely to figure.

At the world championships in March, the top Commonwealth athletes were England’s Jess Varnish, Wales’ Becky James (who is not riding in Glasgow), Morton, Meares, England’s Victoria Williamson, and Malaysia’s Fatehah Mustapa.

In the team sprint, reading the form is harder because the top British pair of Varnish and James has been split, and the Aussies didn’t compete. The smart money would still be on England and Australia taking the top two spots.

The English team of Varnish and Dani Khan will be strong, but Meares and Morton (who have raced together with success at world cup meets) will be formidable.

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Form heading into the Games
If form at the recent UCI World Championships is any guide, Meares is definitely a red hot chance for some more shiny hand luggage on the flight home.

She came home from that championships with a silver medal in the keirin (not contested in Glasgow) behind German ace Kristina Vogel; another silver in the 500m time trial (also not contested in Glasgow) behind another German ace Miriam Welte; and a perplexing 7th place in the sprint.

That’s definitely enough to show Meares still has the speed and power to mix it with the world’s best, even if she’ll need to apply them in slightly different events in Glasgow.

Commonwealth Games history
Australia’s Commonwealth Games flag-bearer is racing in her fourth Commonwealth Games, and she’s yet again sprinting for multiple gold medals.

Meares already has a prodigious haul of Commonwealth treasure: four gold, a silver and a bronze.

In 2002 she took a bronze medal in the sprint.

In 2006 she improved to second place in the sprint, and won gold in the 500m time trial.

In 2010 she won three gold medals, clean-sweeping the sprint, 500m and team sprint (with Kaarle McCulloch).

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Why should Aussies get behind me?
Anna Meares is one of Australia’s greatest ever sportspeople, and she’s given this country so much golden joy that it’s making Rio Tinto jealous.

As well as Meares’ enormous collection of Commonwealth Games loot, you can add two gold, a silver and two bronze medals across three Olympic Games.

Then throw in four World Championships victories and more world #1 rankings than you can shake a carbon fibre crank at.

Putting aside the plethora of shiny objects she’s collected over the past decade, there’s also the drama.

Meares shared a huge sprint rivalry with Britain’s Victoria Pendleton over many years, which occasionally boiled over in the media. For the spectators, it was thrilling, adding an Ashes-on-wheels spice to a sport that can sometimes seem sterile to a mainstream audience.

The feud reached its apogee in 2012, when Pendleton defeated Meares in the semi-finals of the World Championships after Pendleton fell in the first heat, Meares was relegated in the second heat, and Pendleton won the decider in a photo finish.

At the London Olympics, Meares returned the favour, winning the second heat after Pendleton had been relegated in the first, defeating Britain’s cycling superstar on her home track. Pendleton’s subsequent retirement and a reconciliation between the two riders was a grace note to an intense period.

Meares took some time off to regroup, but returned with a vengeance. In December 2013 she set a new world record in the 500m time trial at a world cup event in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

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She is the first and only woman to have broken the 33 second mark for the 500m, clocking 32.836s.

A quote from Meares’ after setting that world record highlights just how long she has been at the top of track cycling,

“It’s really weird, it’s taken me nearly 10 years to improve just over a second in the discipline. In Athens in 2004 I was 20 years old and became the first women to ride a sub 34 [33.952] and now, ten years later at 30 years of age, I’m the first to ride a sub 33.”

“I am just so proud.”

How, after a decade of commitment and world-beating performance, from a woman who has every right to hang up her wheels and reflect on a glittering career, can Meares still summon the desire to win?

“I just wanted it, I wanted it really badly.”

That is a line that sums up a whole career.

A decade at the top. More achievements, awards, and victories than most people could dream of. World records. Olympic glory. Epic rivalries.

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Hell, she even suffered a broken neck in a racing accident in 2008. Did it stop her?

Did it heck. She worked her powerful butt off, clawed, fought and her way back to compete at the Beijing Olympics. She won a silver medal there, just a few months after suffering what could easily have been career-ending injuries.

And still hungry to train, to race, to get better. If Anna Meares doesn’t deserve your support, then nobody does.

Fast facts
– Meares grew up in rural Queensland, in the coal-mining town of Middlemount. She now lives in Adelaide, and trains at the AIS cycling centre with long-time coach Gary West
– Meares is an ambassador for the Port Adelaide Football Club
– Meares can produce over 1800 watts of power in a sprint. That’s enough to power a small house.
– She can also jump onto a 110cm tall box from a standing start, and squat 145kg, or roughly three Colombian road cyclists.

This article was first published on the Tenplay website.

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