Marchant pedalling her way towards Rio Games

Katy Marchant

Katy Marchant

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When he eventually hangs up his clipboard, shorts and whistle, Toni Minichiello may best be remembered for shaping two of the most successful female sports stars in Britain.

Jessica Ennis-Hill is the obvious one. The Sheffield heptathlete is one of the most marketable names in British sport, has been since long before her crowning moment in London 2012, and even afterwards despite starting a family.

The second name is one not so familiar – and not even in the same sport – but thanks to Minichiello, Katy Marchant is now pursuing her own Olympic dream in cycling’s velodrome.

Marchant, then 19, of Leeds, was a member of Minichiello’s select group of multi-event athletes in Sheffield, headed by Ennis-Hill.

A member of Leeds City Athletics Club, the Barwick-in-Elmet resident had been running and jumping since the age of seven, and putting the whole gamut of disciplines together in pentathlon and heptathlon events from 13 onwards.

In 2012, she competed in the world junior championships, validating her belief that a career as a heptahlete was set.

But at a training session one day later that year, Minichiello noticed the strength of her power output on a wattbike session and the wheels of change were set in motion.

Marchant takes up the story: “Toni just said one day that I was producing good power. But that was it at the time, the end of the conversation and I thought nothing more of it.

“As it turns out, that night he was meeting Matt Parker who used to work for British Cycling and Matt suggested I get in contact with the cycling team to see if they were interested.

“They invited me over to Manchester to do a few trials.

“I still had a GB pentathlon coming up in January, 2013, so I held fire and concentrated on athletics because that was my career path at the time.

“And then a couple of weeks after I’d finished the pentathlon – an event I actually won – I went over to Manchester for those trials and it progressed from there.

“John Norfolk, the academy sprint coach at the time, got in touch and asked if I fancied having a go on the track full-time.

“‘Let’s have a look at what you’re capable of’, he said and on April Fool’s Day, 2013, I moved to Manchester and started on the track programme.”

Eighteen months later, Marchant made her debut in a Great Britain vest as part of the team sprint squad at the European Championships.

Today, she flies out to Colombia for the final World Cup meet of the winter in Cali, starting on Friday. Next month she hopes to make her debut in the world championships, before the ultimate goal of the Olympics in Rio next summer.

“Rio was my target in the heptathlon but I’ve definitely accelerated my progress since I became a cyclist,” says Marchant.

“It’s a very professional programme and a great environment.

“I wasn’t looking for a way out of heptathlon. I’d won gold in my last pentathlon. I’d been to the world juniors in 2012. I thought I was set. But this opportunity came along and I just thought ‘life’s too short’.

“The people in front of me in heptathlon wasn’t an issue. I was taking heptathlon as seriously as I take cycling now.

“I was progressing, I had an amazing coach in Toni, a great training group to work alongside and everything was going well.

“I certainly didn’t feel as though I was out of my depth. It was a spur of the moment thing to come and try cycling.

“It is a bit more every man for himself when you do heptathlon, whereas it’s more of a team environment in the track programme I’m on now.

“The mindset in training is a little different, but at the end of the day I still just want to be as strong and as fast as I can.

“And I do like the buzz of the velodrome and the atmosphere when you’re racing. The speed, the adrenalin rush when you’re travelling so fast – I love it.”

Track cycling does offer a quicker route to glory, as Marchant is discovering. Ennis-Hill – in whatever capacity she returns – Katarina Johnson-Thompson and York’s Jess Taylor would all be ahead of her in the heptathlon pecking order.

At the velodrome in Manchester, however, Marchant is one of a host of prospects on the podium potential programme vying for three spots in the team sprint.

Becky James and Jess Varnish are the leading names in that trio currently, both of whom are on the right trajectory to emulating the likes of Victoria Pendleton and Laura Trott in demonstrating just how quickly a woman in track cycling can become a star.

“The way in to the Olympics is team sprint, so I’m focusing primarily on that between now and Rio, and anything else is a bonus,” says Marchant, who in time could also branch out to the individual sprint and keirin races.

“Becky and Jess are really encouraging and helpful. Becky is injured at the minute so the man-two spot is available and it’s anybody’s game.

“This is an opportunity for me to poke my nose in.”

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