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'An Olympic athlete who is used to physical commitment, mental application and who eats pressure for breakfast can turn their hand to anything.'

24/03/2016

Picture Credit: Twitter/@BBCSport

I’d like to offer huge congratulations to Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton for not only completing the course in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham, but for coming an excellent fifth. She and Pacha du Polder finished so fast that she’ll be thinking she could have placed, or even have won the race, had she had a tiny bit more experience.

The decision for Victoria now is whether she continues in a sport she clearly loves. She is certainly capable of riding regularly in point-to-points and amateur races over jumps, and she is light enough to ride on the flat as well.

The ‘switching saddles’ challenge may have been a stunt created in the marketing department of Betfair, but it has proved a few things. The first is that when a story is promoted enough, the public will watch a race for the outcome itself, not just because they’ve had a bet. The second is that an Olympic athlete who is used to physical commitment, mental application and who eats pressure for breakfast can turn their hand to anything.

I suspect that many other companies (betting and otherwise) will follow suit in providing financial backing to retired Olympic athletes who fancy trying another sport. I also hope that it will persuade companies that having an athlete in their ranks is a prize worth more than gold, or indeed gold medals.

I have always believed that sport will teach you more about yourself and test your concentration more than any exams, but this week we have one sporting event that requires some sort of academic obligation as well as muscle. The Boat Races take place on Easter Sunday, and instead of using their own names, sponsors BNY Mellon and Newton Investment have handed over the naming rights to Cancer Research UK. It’s a good move that will raise funds and awareness for them.

Oxford won both men’s and women’s events convincingly last year, but this year’s women’s race will be much closer. The men’s, meanwhile, is too close to call. Many of the Oxford powerhouses who propelled them to three consecutive victories are now in Olympic camps, while Cambridge are posting results that suggest they are ready to reverse their decline. It will be a test of brawn, but their concentration and their resil- ience under pressure will be the quali- ties that take them on through life.

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