Britain’s greatest Olympian, Sir Jason Kenny, admitted he was “a little bit sad” but excited when he announced his retirement from racing to go over to training.
The 33-year-old has this week formally begun work as British Cycling’s podium sprint coach for men, supervising riders who were teammates until his appointment.
Kenny, who won a stunning keirin gold in Tokyo last summer to claim a seventh Olympic title 13 years after his first in Beijing, had planned to continue until the Paris Games in 2024, but said the opportunity to coach the British team was one he could not let go.
“It was not an easy decision,” said Kenny, who was knighted on the New Year Honors List. “I really wanted to continue to Paris, but I squeak quite a lot these days and I always knew I wanted to go in as the coach behind, and this opportunity came.
“I’m a little sorry to be honest because all I have known is to ride and compete, but I’m pretty excited to get stuck in the job.”
The move was not long in planning. British Cycling announced the role on LinkedIn last month and ironically illustrated the ad with a picture of Kenny choosing to insert what he called a “speculative” application a day before the deadline without discussing it with senior coaches first.
“The job ad popped up and I nodded a little,” Kenny added. “I was training full time at the time, but I’m starting to get a lot more sore these days.
“I thought, I do not even know if I will come to Paris, so I could commit for three years and not get anything out of it.
“This opportunity might not come here again. If they got a good coach, they could be in the role for potentially 10 years, so I thought I would go for it now … I think if I had not got the job, would in all probability have continued (racing).
Kenny has retired once before, and has quietly stepped down after winning team sprint, individual sprint and keirin gold at the Rio Games in 2016 without announcing his decision before changing it a year later.
This time it’s more final and, Kenny said, much harder.
“Last time I was not aware of it, but I was just cooked,” he said. “I had never really taken a break (for 10 years), so I just walked away. Because I never intended to come back, I turned it off completely and got it refreshed.
“And since I got back to it, I’ve really enjoyed it again. So this time I’m totally crazy about it, so now I’m quitting!
“In Rio, I was pretty happy to see the back of it. But since I came back and was refreshed, it’s a lot harder to walk away.”
Kenny said the decision was made jointly with his wife Laura, Britain’s most successful female Olympian, who won her fifth gold with a victory in Madison alongside Katie Archibald last summer.
He replaces Scott Pollock, who had served as sprint coach in a temporary role following the firing of Kevin Stewart in November 2020.
Kenny’s new role will involve longer hours and more travel than racing, as he will no longer pick and choose competitions and training camps, but Kenny believes it will also give him more quality time with their son Albie, who turned four in August last year.
“Athletes’ days off are not really free – you’re planning for the next day,” he said. “It basically consists of not doing anything too cumbersome and burning right …
“You can not just go and play football with Albie or whatever. Now I think I’ll get less free, but I will be able to enjoy it more.”
Kenny has already started a training course and plans to do more in the coming months – aware that the clock is already ticking against Paris – and said he had “hovered around” in an unofficial coaching role during recent sessions in Derby.
There may be no substitute for racing, but Kenny hopes coaching comes close.
“I get a buzz of high-performance process,” he said. “Hopefully I get it from the coaching side. That’s what I really enjoy, getting to the smallest details and getting it as close to as perfect as physically possible.”
Kenny’s retirement now means that his last race as a professional was the impressive keirin victory at the Tokyo Games. After battling in the individual sprint, Kenny broke free from his rivals as soon as the derny pulled out, defying all expectations of holding off for three laps.
“It’s (a great way to unsubscribe),” he said. “I’m dead happy about it. It was really special. To do it on that bike, the last day of the Olympics, for me it’s a very special moment in time.
“If I could have chosen a day to quit, it would be it.”