Martyn Irvine has admitted that his poor performance at London 2012 caused him to question his future in cycling, but a change of focus has seen him win a World Championship gold medal just six months later.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport, Irvine admitted that life has changed since he secured a silver in the pursuit and a gold in the scratch at the World Championships in Belarus.
“It’s been interesting to say the least! There has been so much more interest in me and what I am doing, which is good to see for cycling. Cycling has been hiding in the shadows for a long time so it’s great to see it in the newspapers. Seeing myself in the newspapers is a scary sight, but it is cool to see it.
“I had ticked my own boxes with the podium in the pursuit. I would have been happy with that. The scratch was like ‘Where did that come from?’ It was just amazement and disbelief."
The Co Down native made history by becoming the first man to win a track cycling medal for Ireland in 117 years when he took silver in the individual pursuit. He later surprised everyone by lining up for the 15km scratch race less than an hour afterwards.
“I turned up for the scratch race and I was still sweating from the pursuit. I had only 45 or 50 minutes recovery time between the races. The way my legs were after the pursuit I was thinking I could not start the scratch race. My legs were hollow and I was wrecked.”
“Looking back I think that this made me more cagey in the scratch final. I saved my energy a bit more which paid off in the end. I wouldn’t normally do that. If I felt good I would just have wasted energy so a lot of small things added up to a perfect race.”
“I only watched the coverage of the race a few days days ago just to see what happened. Even the commentators were surprised when I was on the start line. They thought I was not going to show up but I surprised everyone, myself included. It was great.”
Irvine again touched on his difficult experience at the London Olympics where he finished a disappointing 13th in the Omnium event, despite having been seen as an outside contender for a medal.
“London 2012 is a bittersweet experience. Looking back, to get on the Irish team was awesome. It was what I had spent two years striving to do. But (qualification) would never have made me happy. I wanted to get there and represent Ireland in the way I wanted to, which was top six at the outside and a podium was the dream.”
“It was a bit of a shock to the system because you spend a lot of time training and talking yourself out of things because a podium was the target. I knew the week previous to the race that I was not going well so it was a case of uh-oh.”
“Looking back it was great to be there but (the result) is not what I wanted out of it”.
Irvine admitted that his experience in London had led him to question his future in the sport, but that an offer of a professional contract from US-based Pro Continental team UnitedHealthCare and the decision to focus on different events at the World Cup meeting in Glasgow, where he won silver in both the individual pursuit and the scratch, got him back in the saddle.
“For me it was hard. It was good in one way in that when you do badly nobody wants to know you so you can slide out the back door and you’re gone. But I felt horrible after London. You cannot prepare yourself for that kind of reality check.”
“I thought about quitting and wondered what kind of job I could get. I probably did quit for a week or two! I was thinking that I had spent two or three years trying to do this and I did it badly so there is no point in carrying on. Then I got offered the pro contract and that made me get back on the bike. I thought it would be stupid not to carry on.”
“Once I got back on the bike the World Cup in Glasgow was in the pipeline and I like the pursuit and scratch races. I had being doing the omnium for the Olympics so I was doing what I had to do up until then and now I thought I would do what I want to do. It was the right choice because Glasgow came along and it paid off in spades.”
And Ireland’s latest World Champion conceded that his thoughts are now turning once more to the Olympics and the challenge of Rio 2016.
“Yeah it’s there. I would like to bury the experience of London. I would like to look back when I’m older and say I did that right. I want to be able to say that at the Olympic level I was as good as anybody. I would like to go to Rio but there is a lot to be doing in the meantime.”