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Beijing Olympics 2008
Darren Kenny celebrates winning gold
Dorset's record-breaker Darren Kenny is among the world's elite paralympic cyclists, taking a brace of gold medals at the Paralympics in Athens, and then beating that sucess at Beijing.
Darren Kenny is one of Dorset's most decorated sportsmen, having achieved paralympic gold in Athens back in 2004, as well as a flurry of records and World Cup wins throughout his cycling career.
Kenny wins gold in the Men's Road Race
His achievements make him one of the sport's biggest stars, and with his return to the Paralympics stage in Beijing he hoped to match his amazing haul of two golds and a silver.
In fact, Kenny even surpassed his own expectations, winning three golds in five races.
Darren, from Verwood near Bournemouth, has been involved in cycling since he was young, but an accident during a tour race looked to have put paid to his career:
"I started racing when I was eleven, through till the age of 19, then I stopped till I was about thirty when I started again after becoming disabled and putting on loads of weight.
"I injured my neck in a crash in the tour of Ireland, coming down Wicklow Gap descending. I didn't really leave enough time to recover, and I never really realised until recently how much damage I'd done to my neck and it just meant that I wasn't at the level I wanted to be at and it was a question of more and more time off and at nineteen there were other distractions..."
Winning Paralympic gold in Athens - 2004
However, after a hiatus, Darren did eventually return to his bike, initially just as an aid to his fitness.
However, it didn't take him long to get the bug back, and he slowly found himself returning to the racing fraternity:
"I wanted to get a bit fitter, I thought that by losing weight it would make my life easier with being disabled, and cycling was the only thing I knew really.
"It's also good in that my weight is supported and everything. I went out a few times, started bumping into people from the old days so you've got groups to go out with and the social aspect as well."
However, as Darren pointed out it wasn't all plain sailing...
"In your head you can still race, and it spurs you on when you don't do very well. You start thinking I've got to knuckle down and do a bit more.
Glimpse of the gold
Although Darren can look back on those early days with a knowing smile, he's fully aware of the hard work he had to put in to get to this opportunity.
Just getting onto the Paralympic team was difficult enough:
"I'd been cycling again for nearly two years before I found out about the paralympic side of things. That was only by chance as I hadn't started with the intention of doing so, it was a way of making my life easier.
"Had I found out about it earlier in my first few years when I'd have been nowhere near the standard, hen I did and the opportunities that were there I trained a lot harder and putting a lot more into it and I managed to win the national championships that year, but I wasn't anywhere near the standard for world level.
"I managed to get to the standard required to join the world class performance plan, get the proper coaching and back-up and everything. I suppose two years on the plan led me to Athens, by Athens I was absolutely pinging!"
Despite his glittering array of medals and trophies, Darren is enjoying his racing as much as ever, and is still hungry to progress in his sport.
As Darren himself explains, this is down to the immense support offered to him by his training team:
"I'm still improving, I'm getting older but I keep getting faster every year and the age doesn't seem to be affecting me yet."
"The back-up here is absolutely incredible. These people are world experts in their field. Gary Brickley, my coach, is a lecturer in exercise physiology at Brighton University, and he's probably the world's leading coach for disabled cyclists.
"There are experts like Chris Boardman (former Olympic cycling gold medallist) and the with the mechanics you've never got to worry about the bike, you've never got to worry about peaking at the right time. They take care of it all.
"The only downside of that is that it takes away all your excuses if you do badly, it's all down to you!"
Being a world-class sportsman takes a lot of work, and this means a variety of methods.
With the numerous events requiring different attributes, Darren will tailor his training to suit his race timetable:
"I don't have a typical day. Time of year, type of event coming up, changes quite dramatically from day-to-day. I do a quite a range of events from 200m on the track up to the road races which can be a few hours. So depending what's coming up and what the particular goals are the training varies from five, five hour rides in the winter outside to indoor sessions that might last 45 minutes."
"The winter tends to be the time for base work, building up the endurance and nearer the goal you spend less hours on the bike but they're more intense, there's weight training as well.
Sit back and relax
The punishing schedule that Darren puts himself through to remain at the top of his game will make up the majority of his preparations, although surprisingly so does rest and relaxation...
"Rest is very important as well. It's the main difference between doing it full-time and doing with a job is that you probably train as much with a job but you don't get the rest and that's when you get the real changes take place when you rest.
"That's the idea of training really, you stress the body and then you rest and it recovers and makes itself stronger."
"I'm quite good at doing nothing. At first having a proper coach rather than just going out and trying to batter yourself every time you go out on the bike, it takes a bit of time getting used to because you're trying to focus instead of go into an event and trying to do well you're focusing on just one event and so you're not going quite so well the rest of the but for that event you're doing really well.
Emotional - On the podium in Athens
"You start to think 'Am I doing enough?' and feeling guilty if you take a day off. When you start seeing the results it's actually easier than going out and doing your own thing."
With various competitions and races taking him all over the world, Darren is often forced to spend time away from his family.
However, when he is around he enjoys spending time with his partner and son, not to mention keeping himself busy with other pursuits:
"Me and my son watch indoor motorbike trials, but I don't do a lot else apart from play with computer games with Brandon (my son).
"I'm doing an AS-Level in psychology, but I'm finding I'm not getting enough time to do the work I should be doing outside the classroom!
"I'm always going away and when you get home you don't even want to be going out. It's funny the things you miss - proper toilet paper and your own sofa! Things become a luxury."
Although the Paralympics pick up lots of media coverage, and cycling is a fast-paced sport, Darren believes that we have a long way to go before the sport is fully accepted and appreciated in this country:
"It seems ok until you go abroad. When you go to places like Holland and Spain and see what goes on there with cycle lanes etc, and the attitude to cycling in this country, which is that we're slightly 'eccentric' - it's like 'Why are you riding a bike, can't you afford a car?'."
"We've just been racing over in Northern Spain and everybody comes out, school kids lining the track.
"The cars that are stopped, because we have a rolling road closure, they're not getting angry and beeping their horns and driving on anyway, they're getting out of the car, taking pictures and clapping and cheering us on.
"It's like a bonus to them, they've come across a bike race, it's not like they're thinking - 'We're going to be five minutes late' or something as in this country."
Darren continues to rack up medals in all the major competitions, but there is no competition as to what his favourite moment has been:
"My most memorable moment would be my first gold medal in Athens. I don't even think it was pleasant!"
"Unbelievable amount of pressure going into the event, I was one of the favourites, you don't realise how much pressure it is until it's over.
"I remember getting on the start line, looking up at the fifty foot high screen they've got with a close-up of my face, with about five seconds to go... it was like 'Oh Christ!'
"There was this moment where they put up the wrong result and put me down as third. It was only probably three or four seconds before it was corrected but it felt like half an hour.
"I was just thinking - that's three years gone, I can't go back and do it again, it's over. I've got my manager, my coach, mechanics, physio, masseuse, because when you win it's not just winning for you its for the team and I felt like I'd let them all down.
"Then when it comes back up that I've won, it's more relief than happiness, there's a whole wait off your shoulders you just feel like jelly, there's no jumping up and down you just want to curl up in a corner!"
"The second gold I enjoyed it was easier to deal with, but the first was such a relief, it's something I'll never ever forget."
For all the latest news and other features check out Darren's official website:
last updated: 16/09/2008 at 10:21