Meares chasing Pendleton

23 March 2011

Australian Anna Meares believes she could take a major step towards Olympic sprint glory in London if she beats British rival Victoria Pendleton at the world championships in the Netherlands this week. 

In a regal six-year spell Pendleton has amassed five world titles and an Olympic sprint gold, beating Meares into silver medal position in Beijing three years ago. 

At the March 23-27 championships, 30-year-old Pendleton has hinted that her ambition to defend her Olympic crown may give her few authentic rivals a sniff of replacing her as world champion. 

"I don't mind if I don't win another world title between now and the Olympics. If I win the Olympics, everything would be absolutely okay," Pendleton said Tuesday. 

Although that may be music to the ears of some, it won't be to Meares. Having dominated her usually unbeatable English nemesis in the semi-finals of a recent World Cup event in Manchester, the Australian is not lacking in confidence - despite having zero world sprint titles to her name. 

What's more, the 27-year-old Australian believes that after 16 years of training and trying to get the most out of her body she can move up a gear or two in the 16 months between now and London 2012. 

"Not a lot has changed for me in the last year, except that I've had no injuries and no illnesses," Meares said. 

"But I'm finally starting to understand the importance of training history, and I believe I still have plenty of room for improvement." 

Normally, Meares would kick off the championships looking to defend her 500 metres time trial crown, now a non-Olympic event but one which is a fairly reliable gauge of who will be on form in the sprint tournament. 

But having seen her sprint gold bid suffer from the fatigue induced while regaining the title last year, when she finished fourth, she has dropped the 500m from her schedule. 

"These championships are huge for me, they're a big stepping stone towards London," added Meares. 

"I'm really motivated. Competition is what it's all about and for me it's still fun. 

"Plus, I've never won a sprint or keirin world title. Victoria has been the one to beat, she's had a hold on the (sprint) title for the past five, six years." 

Meares and the other Australian sprinters are all under the coaching wing of Gary West. And while he believes Meares will respect all her rivals, he expects her rivalry with Pendleton to simmer for a while yet. 

"Anna will be focusing on everybody, not just Victoria Pendleton. She'll be one of several girls to beat," West said. 

"I think that when it comes to Victoria, there's an element of some unfinished business (from Beijing). Anna is focused totally on London, on stepping on to the podium, and not just the lower steps." 

Meares meanwhile believes that beating Pendleton here at the championships will reinforce her belief that she can do it again in London. 

"To be an Olympic champion you've got to be the best, but you also have to beat the best," she added. 

"I've already done that this year and I feel I've got the form to go out there and do it again." 

The competition opens Wednesday when five finals will be held: the women's 500m and points race and the men's scratch, team sprint and team pursuit.
 
Justin Davis
AFP

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