By Rachel Williams
Bryan Steel. Courtesy Larry Hickmott and
the British Cycling Federation.
The old adage
"every cloud has a silver lining" could
have been written for Bryan Steel.
One of Britain's finest ever track cyclists, he notched up
no less than nine silver medals in a career that took him to four Olympic Games
and 14 world championships.
Now, "Bryan the Lion," as he was dubbed by Britain's
cycling supremo Simon Jones, has retired and, being a down-to-earth Midlands man
rather than Hollywood crooner or a billionaire boxer, he means it.
That said, he did arrive for our interview in his town of
Rugby on a bike, but one that he'd cycled a good deal slower than the 60kph he
regularly rode on the world's cycling stage.
With him was the precious silver medal that he'd won as
part of Britain's team pursuit squad in Athens.
At the time, many cycling fans had lumps in their throats
at the sight of the British team being pipped for gold yet again by the
And for Bryan there was a huge wave of sympathy. After
being the bedrock of the British team's rise from being the also-rans of world
cycling to being the undisputed second best in the world, he was left out of the
four-man final line-up.
Being a great team member, he hides his personal
disappointment with the collective sadness of the team once more just missing
out on gold.
"It was a different Olympics for us because we all thought
we could win it," Bryan explained. "In the past we thought we could get a medal
and that was our aim, but in Athens we were there to win it and although it's
good to get Silver, we were all disappointed not to win the Gold."
For Bryan, however, that near miss was all the more
painful. He had been in great form during the first round of the Athens
competition where he had raced but then watched from the sidelines in the second
round as his team-mates went under four minutes for the first time ever – a
quite phenomenal achievement which equates to the four men riding at an average
speed of 60kph for four kilometres.
He know the decision to leave him out was a terribly
difficult one to make and wonders aloud whether it was partly sparked by the
knowledge of his impending retirement.
"It was really hard knowing it was going to be my last
race and that got in the way," he admits. "Ever since the Worlds I have been
struggling with that and putting pressure on myself thinking this is the last
time I am going to do this and that I had to make the most of it.
"It was perhaps one of the factors that went against me in
picking the team for the final as I was getting quite emotional which is
understandable but I shouldn't have let it get in the way really."
Ironically, the decision to omit Bryan from the final
line-up was taken by Simon Jones, the man Bryan describes as the best thing to
happen to his career.
"It was him that turned my career around," Bryan says
simply. "If it wasn't for Simon, we would not have moved on like we have done.
We would never have got one Olympic medal, never mind two. We were mediocre and
on a good day we might get fifth in the Worlds or scrape home in fourth on a
really good day. But Simon shook it all up.
"He wasn't scared to change things and cut things which is the big thing for
sport. Whereas some people may have a plan which isn't going right and still
stick to it, Simon is like 'its not going right, lets change it'. And that's the
big thing with him, he's not scared to change things around."
His omission from the final line-up meant that Bryan was
unable to cap his career by standing on an Olympic podium.
Only the four riders who competed in the final were
allowed to collect their medals and it was only after an appeal that the
International Olympic Committee agreed that those who had ridden in earlier
rounds should also be given their gong.
And talking of clouds having silver linings – the agony of
missing out in Athens resulted in an emotional medal ceremony at
Buckingham Palace last month where he finally received his silver medal from the
For Bryan that proved almost as good as getting it in
Greece, as his beloved wife Dawn was able to share the experience with him.
He recalled: "It was a wonderful moment – as close as you
could get to an Olympic medal ceremony and it was great that Dawn could be there
to share it with me. Without her support I wouldn't have made it to Athens
anyway, so it was fitting in a way.
"Immediately after the Games I had been so keen to get the
medal that I wanted them to post it to me if necessary. I'm glad I waited but it
sure is nice to be able to show people a medal rather than say, "I came second
at the Olympic Games.""
Bryan, who was born in Nottingham, first got into cycling
as a teenager, inspired by his older brother.
For most of his career, he struggled to get by in a sport
that attracts very little funding and says that looking back, lottery funding
which became available in 1998, was the best thing to happen to him.
"Riders get a liveable wage now through funding," he said. "In the past riders were paid nothing but some got money for coaching. Now,
riders can afford to buy in top class coaches.
"The funding comes from UK sports, the national lottery,
and it's on a "league table" system so the more successful the sport, the more
funding it gets.
"Of the 24 cycling athletes that went to Athens, we won 6
medals, coming second after sailing in the British success league table, which
hopefully means a blank cheque for funding!"
Bryan also hopes that this will help him to find work
within the sport he loves now that he has retired.
He admits that it won't be easy.
"I don't really know yet what I want to do. James Pope at
Face management (PR Agency in London who works for British Cycling) has helped
me no end really. We went through my options and yes, I do want to be involved in
cycling, but there is the thing that I don't want to be away from home anymore.
"So we have to wait and see what funding there is going to
be before we make any decisions on the coaching side.
"I am ready for a new challenge though. I wouldn't retire
if this wasn't out of my system, and I have no regrets. I have given everything
I have to give to my sporting career and there is no more left to give as a
"It would be fantastic if I could get a job in the sport and give back
something to the younger riders because we need the younger riders to come
through because if you take away half the Athens team, we are in trouble. I am
concerned about that and would love to show them the ropes and help prepare the
next generation of medal winners."
Bryan is certain that retirement will mean enjoying a lot
more time with his wife Dawn, who has put up with the endless training schedules
that have dominated his life and meant him missing out on countless parties and
And he is absolutely clear about one thing: "I am not
intending to race again. I will still ride my bike for enjoyment but you have to
draw line in the sand.
"I can't say I'm not going to ride a bike again because
it's a big part of my life but it doesn't interest me to be a club cyclist. It
did to start with, but for the last four years it's been about winning Olympic
Gold and nothing else.
"I said all along if I didn't think we were going to win I would haven't
been doing it. Right up until the last minute I thought we could win it. If I
had been told a year ago "you have no chance of winning," I would have retired
Although they missed out yet again, Britain's cycling
fraternity is relieved that Bryan stayed with the team through to the Olympics.
A British team without "Bryan the Lion" will be a strange
sight in Beijing in 2008 but no one should rule out the likelihood that he'll be
involved somewhere – grooming the next generation to win the gold that so agonisingly eluded him.
Rachel Williams is an events and promotions organizer.