The making of a future champion?

Jason and Laura Kenny are having a baby. John Whitney ponders a new track cycling dynasty...

British Cycling’s (BC) miserable run of bad press was temporarily halted in February with the announcement that Jason and Laura Kenny were expecting a child. Of course, Kenny Junior won’t be the first BC Baby. Paralympic star Dame Sarah Storey and her husband Barney, the former tandem pilot, have a young daughter, while Sir Bradley Wiggins and his wife Cath, who met as junior cyclists in the nineties, have two kids.

Romance has blossomed at the National Cycling Centre; it’s less ‘Medal factory,’ more baby-making factory. The inevitable question everyone was asking was whether we can expect a next generation star?

Sports stars are genetically blessed, yes, but are also products of their environment

Combine Jason’s supercharged sprint and Laura’s endurance and racecraft, and you have, as one Twitter user said, “the 1st GB gold of the 2036 Olympics.” Bookies wasted no time looking to make a few quid. Sky Bet offered 25/1 for the tot to ride in an Olympic cycling event, and 200-1 to win gold. The odds are miserly — in 2001, more charitable bookies offered 500-1 on Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi’s foetus winning Wimbledon.

Logic suggests such couplings would bear a physiologically gifted child. Indeed, over in the bookies’ favourite arena, horse racing, vast sums of money are paid for the offspring of equine excellency: the foals of Frankel, arguably the world’s greatest ever horse, are valued at millions. In that arena, however, there are fewer environmental factors in play. You might get the nature — the good genes — without all the complicated nurture. It still offers no guarantees, though.

There are few instances in cycling of children emulating their successful parents, even when just one was in pro sport. Nicolas Roche has had a good career, but hasn’t come close to his father Stephen.

A better example of genetics proving crucial is with Dan Martin; father Neil was a good British domestic pro and mother Maria is the sister of Stephen Roche (genetics for mitochondria, the cell’s aerobic powerhouse, is passed through the mother).

But forget cycling, there are few examples in sport where the child has overtaken successful parents. If they do it’s often in a different sport, where talents can be used without expectation.

Sports stars are genetically blessed, yes, but are also products of their environment, often driven by parents motivated — for better or worse — for them to succeed. It’s why Agassi was driven, often kicking and screaming, to the top by his overbearing father, and he’s likely to be the exact opposite with his children.

For those daft enough to stake money on a bet that won’t pay out for a quarter of a century, and probably not at all, it’s perhaps best to write it off now, and hope to make their money back more immediately with a well bred filly in the Grand National, where lineage might actually matter.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

After early cycling flirtations with the Tour de France on childhood holidays, John Whitney fell for it hook, line and sinker in his mid-20s as an escape from the more sedate sports of his youth. As a classically trained news reporter, he snagged his dream job as a cycling writer straight out of college and is now fully immersed in the industry and wouldn't have it any other way.
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