Nicole Cooke, the Beijing Road Race Olympic champion who’s public spats with rival Lizzie Armitstead often threatened to overshadow her great achievements, has used he retirement (at the age of 29) to blast the dark side of the sport. Describing her life in the sport as ‘more “fantastic” than any soap opera’ she said that her time had given witness to: ‘…the greatest ever sporting fraud, about which we get new and wider revelations each day.’
Despite saying ‘I have many, many happy memories over what has been my life’s work since I was 12’, she continued to condemn the widespread culture of doping, saying that she had been pressurised to cheat (though never yielded), recalling, ‘I have had days where temptation to start onto the slippery slope was brought in front of me. (In one race) I was asked what “medicines” I would like to take to help me, and was reminded that the team had certain expectations of me during the race and I was not living up to them with my performance over the last couple of stages.’ She also stated that she felt that, at times, he had been ‘robbed’ of wins by drug cheats.
On the subject of Lance Armstrong Cooke was particularly forthright: ‘When Lance “cries” on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.’
Despite the obvious frustration, bordering on anger, in her retirement statement it is vital to remember the huge success that Cooke has enjoyed. In addition to her gold in Beijing (the 200th won by GB in the modern Olympics), the Swansea-born star took first at the British National Road Race Championships no fewer than nine times and has enjoyed podium places at many of the sport’s most significant events and races. She has always actively championed women’s participation in the sport (and often harshly criticized it when it failed to live up to her expectations). The latter fact reflected in British Cycling president Brian Cookson’s comment on news of her retirement, saying simply ‘…There is no doubt that Nicole has been a pioneering force in women’s cycling for the past decade.’