World champion, Olympic gold medallist, and now two-time Commonwealth Games champion; that is the brief biography of Anna Meares, the cyclist. Her win over compatriot Kaarle McCulloch in the women’s 500m time trial though, is more a triumph for Meares.
In early 2008, just months ahead of the Beijing Games, Meares was in hospital in California, fighting not just for her career, but for the ability to ever walk again.
During a Keirin sprint race, she was thrown from her bike and had ripped neck muscles and fractures of the C2 vertebra. In non-medical terms, that means a broken neck. Doctors even said that if the fracture had gone 2 mm. deeper, Meares would have been paralysed from the neck. No one thought she would compete again, far less in Beijing.
But, compete she did; only losing out to Briton Victoria Pendleton in the sprint final.
Looking at a jubilant Meares after her games record-breaking run of 33.758, you would never believe the horrific injury was just a little over two years ago. At 27, Meares said, “It made me a better athlete. It was the recovery that was more difficult. The fact that I can compete, travel and earn a living doing what I love most is something I am very grateful for.”
And Meares said she hasn’t reached her peak yet. “We hope to be at our peak in London. We took a beating from the Brits at Beijing, but I think the tide is turning.” Meares’ win came over her closest rival in the discipline, but also the girl who makes up the other half of a world champion sprint team. So what is it like racing against a teammate? “We have to switch on and off. We go against each other in the individual events, but then team up.”
“It’s great to see new riders competing,” Mears told HT when asked about the Indian team. “I would love to see them on the international circuit. They’re posting good times, and there is plenty of room for development.”
The Meares story doesn’t end there. Since the 500m time trial was introduced to the Games at Manchester 2002, the gold has been a family affair. Her sister Kerrie won the first gold, but Anna beat her to the title at the Athens Olympics. She then bagged gold in 2006, and now in Delhi, the latest chapter in the Meares legacy is being written.