Britain’s greatest Olympian Sir Jason Kenny admitted to being “a little bit sad” but excited as he announced his retirement from racing in order to move into coaching.
The 33-year-old has this week formally begun work as British Cycling’s men’s podium sprint coach, overseeing riders who were team-mates 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 been planning to keep going until the Paris Games in 2024 but said the opportunity to coach the British squad was one he could not pass up.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Kenny, who was knighted in the New Year Honours List. “I genuinely wanted to carry on to Paris, but I creak quite a lot these days and I always knew I wanted to go into coaching off the back of it, and this opportunity came along.
“I am a little bit sad to be honest because all I’ve known is riding and competing, but I’m quite excited to get stuck into the job.”
The move was not long in the planning. British Cycling advertised for the role on LinkedIn last month, ironically illustrating the advert with a picture of Kenny, who chose to put in what he called a “speculative” application a day before the deadline without discussing it with senior coaches first.
“The job ad came up and I ummed and ahed a bit,” added Kenny. “I was full-time training at the time, but I’ve started to ache a lot more these days.
“I thought, I don’t even know if I’m going to make it to Paris, so I could commit for three years and get nothing 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’d go for it now…I think if I hadn’t got the job I would have carried on (racing) in all likelihood.”
Kenny has retired once before, silently stepping away after winning team sprint, individual sprint and keirin gold at the 2016 Rio Games, without announcing his decision until he reversed it a year later.
This time it is more definitive and, Kenny said, much harder.
“Last time I didn’t realise it but I was just cooked,” he said. “I’d never really taken a break (in 10 years), so I just stepped away. Because I never planned on coming back I completely switched off and got that re-fresh.
“And since I came back into it I’ve really enjoyed it again. So this time I’m absolutely loving it, so now I’m going to quit!
“In Rio I was quite happy to see the back of it. But then since coming back and being refreshed it’s a lot harder to walk away.”
Kenny said the decision had been taken jointly with his wife Laura, Britain’s most successful female Olympian, who won her fifth gold with victory in the Madison alongside Katie Archibald last summer.
He replaces Scott Pollock, who had served as sprint coach in an interim role following the dismissal 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 allow him more quality time with their son Albie, who turned four last August.
“Athletes’ days off are not really off – you’re planning for the next day,” he said. “It basically consists of not doing anything too arduous and fuelling right…
“You can’t just go and play football with Albie or whatever. Now I think I’ll have less time off but I’ll be able to enjoy it more.”
Kenny has already begun one training course and plans to do more in the coming months – aware that the clock is already ticking towards Paris – and said he had been “floating around” in an unofficial coaching role during recent sessions in Derby.
There may be no substitute for racing, but Kenny hopes coaching will come close.
“I get a buzz off the high performance process,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get that from the coaching side. That’s what I really enjoy, to get to the tiniest details and get it to as near as perfect as physically possible.”
Kenny’s retirement now means his final race as a professional was the show-stopping keirin victory at the Tokyo Games. Having struggled in the individual sprint, Kenny broke clear of his rivals as soon as the derny pulled off and defied all expectations to stay clear for three laps.
“It is (a great way to sign off),” he said. “I’m dead happy with that. It was really special. To do it on that bike, the last day of the Olympics, for me that’s a really special moment in time.
“If I could have picked a day to end on, that would be the one.”