WHEN Colne’s Steven Burke goes for gold at the European Track Cycling Championships today, he will do so in the team pursuit rather than the event in which he claimed a shock medal at the 2008 Olympics.
The individual pursuit has now been scrapped at the top level, but for Burke the memories of Beijing will always remain.
The 23-year-old is in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn as Great Britain aim to defend their European team pursuit title. The medal races will be shown on Eurosport tonight from 7pm.
Burke helped his country to victory alongside Ed Clancy, Andy Tennant and Chorley’s Jason Queally in Polish town Pruszkow last year.
This year they have a five-man squad containing Clancy, Tennant, Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh. Queally, 41, has now switched to the team sprint.
“I was disappointed that the individual pursuit was scrapped but I was relieved they didn’t scrap the team pursuit,” said Burke.
“I think I’m a better team pursuiter than I am as an individual pursuiter, as daft as that may sound.
“The team pursuit suits a rider who is more sprint based. It suits me more for what type of rider I am.”
Burke made his name on the world stage in 2008, when he was not even expected to make the squad for the Beijing Olympics but ended up securing bronze in the individual pursuit.
Before that medal, just being there had been enough.
“I never thought I’d make the team until a month out when I was invited along to the training camp as a team pursuiter, as a spare man,” he told the Lancashire Telegraph.
“But I just got better and better throughout that year and made the standard.
“I didn’t make the team pursuit in the end but they gave me an opportunity in the individual.
“I got the phone call that I’d been selected after the last session.
“I was buzzing, and my dad was in the car with me at the time and he was stunned. He was really happy for me.
“And it was a great experience. When I was in Beijing I only saw the village really, but you saw all the top athletes, top tennis players, basketball players, from every sport, it was quite stunning and surreal.
“I saw Usain Bolt, Kobe Bryant, Rafael Nadal, Ronaldinho there for Brazil for the football, the biggest names in sport.
“That was all part of the Olympic experience.”
The former Park High School pupil knows Britain will probably go into London 2012 as favourites for gold in the team pursuit.
It was eventual winner Bradley Wiggins who was the hot favourite in the individual pursuit in Beijing, while Burke was able to take advantage of the lack of expectation to secure bronze.
“Even on race day I wasn’t that nervous because I thought I’d take a kicking,” he said.
“All I focused on was trying to break my personal best. I had nothing to lose so I just went for it.
“In the qualifier I think I broke my personal best by nine seconds.
“I couldn’t really believe it and I don’t think my coach could either. I remember his face that day.
“I qualified fifth so I had to ride against the fourth seed, so on paper the Ukrainian Volodymyr Dyuda) was supposed to beat me, but I managed to up my game and knock him out.
“Then I had the third fastest time so I was put into the bronze medal ride-off against a Russian (Alexei Markov).
“I knew I’d gone faster than him once so I thought I could beat him again, and I managed to do it.
“My first reaction was just sheer shock. I don’t think it sunk in until a few days later.
“Receiving my medal it was just surreal, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe I was standing there.”
Burke’s display, in one of the first cycling events at the Olympics, was later credited by performance director Dave Brailsford with spurring on the rest of the British team to incredible success on the track. In total, they won eight gold medals, four silvers and two bronzes.
“We won pretty much everything,” he said.
“It was just an incredible performance throughout the team.
“Just to match it in London will be an incredible achievement for us.
“But I think it’s do-able.”