Becky James: The rise of British Cycling's latest golden girl
Last Updated: February 26, 2013 3:03pm
Becky James won an unprecedented four medals at the Track Cycling World Championships in Minsk
She may have adorned the front and back pages of Monday morning's newspapers after a golden week in Minsk that has transformed her career, but as little as a week ago Becky James was a largely unknown name in mainstream Britain.
Victoria Pendleton was the former queen of track cycling turned Strictly Come Dancing star and Laura Trott, a double world and double Olympic champion, was her natural successor.
There was no room in the public eye for an unheralded 21-year-old from Abergavenny whose previous career highlight had been a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Yet that all changed when James single-handedly rewrote history by becoming the first British rider to win four medals in a single Track Cycling World Championships.
The first two were bronzes in the team sprint, alongside Vicky Williamson, and the individual 500m time trial, before she moved up to the top step of the podium with sensational victories in the individual sprint and keirin.
Suddenly, images of the girl with a golden smile and a rainbow jersey flooded the media, but who was she and where did she come from?
James first came to notice as a junior rider, when she was winning medals at national championships aged as young as 13.
Her first national title came as a 14-year-old in the under-16 individual time trial and another four national golds would follow the next year, including wins in both the under-16 and junior 500m TT.
Her performances put her firmly on British Cycling's radar and by 2009, aged 17, she was winning gold medals at the European Track Cycling Championships in the sprint and 500m TT.
After adding two golds, in the sprint and keirin, at the Junior Track Cycling World Championships later that year, she was selected to represent Wales at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi the following summer and, despite still being only 18, brought home sprint silver and 500m TT bronze.
Staking a claim
James in action at the 2010 Commonwealth Games
Those outstanding performances highlighted James as one of Britain's brightest young sprint prospects, but with Pendleton still at the peak of her powers and fellow rising star Jess Varnish also staking a strong claim, places at the major senior championships were hard to come by.
Like all of her peers, her ultimate aim was to be selected for London 2012, yet with Pendleton fighting for medals in the sprint, team sprint and keirin, and Varnish the preferred second rider in the team sprint, James had to settle for being named as a reserve for her home Olympics.
The then 20-year-old was crushed and her pain was further exacerbated when it was suggest she would be better served going back to training rather than waiting around in the Olympic village. As expected, the call never came.
However, that extra training set up gold medal-winning performances at Track Cycling World Cup events in Glasgow and Colombia, which in turn instilled a confidence in James that she could head to the world championships in Minsk and be competitive.
She had no idea she would win an unprecedented four medals and come home with two rainbow jerseys, but not even James can deny that the potential she has now fulfilled has been there all along.