ASKED what he now regards as the highlight of his career so far, Steven Burke does not hesitate for a second.
In a sport in which the Olympics will always be the pinnacle, the shock bronze medal Burke secured in Beijing in 2008 – at the age of just 20 – will forever be a special memory for the Colne track cyclist.
But even that was surpassed three weeks ago in Melbourne, as a long-held ambition finally came to fruition. A World Championships gold medal, after years of trying, and perhaps most significantly of all a new world record in the team pursuit.
“I would put that at the top, to break the world record, even above my bronze medal in Beijing,” said Burke, now 24.
“I’ve always wanted to win a gold medal in the team pursuit and to break a world record, it’s what I’ve been working towards for four years now.
“Obviously the World Champion-ships aren’t as big as the Olympics but they are still massive for us and a gold medal in the World Cham-pionships was something I wanted to achieve.
“But if we could win gold and break the world record again at the Olympics in London, that would top anything I could achieve in my car-eer.”
Burke is expected to line up for Great Britain in the team pursuit at the Olympics, having been part of the four-man line-up since Beijing.
Then he was taken as a back-up rider but went on to claim an unexpected medal in the individual pursuit instead.
Burke, Geraint Thomas, Ed Clancy and Pete Kennaugh made up the quartet that defeated Australia in their own country to claim gold at the start of this month with a new world record time of three minutes 53.295 seconds – although even then the margin of victory was only slender. The East Lancashire star had been surprisingly left out of the line-up for qualifying, something he admits has spurred him on to improve his form even further.
“It was a shock to be left out and I just had to wait to see if I would be in for the final,” said Burke, who is now scheduled to take part in a number of domestic road races before training camps in Majorca and Newport later in the summer.
“I didn’t know, because they had rode really well in qualifying.
“There is a lot of competition, it’s a six-man squad but only five will go to the Olympics.
“I don’t want to sound big headed but I don’t think we had won if we hadn’t made that change. They looked at the data and decided to make the change.
“In training we had been going quicker than we had done before, although it was still a shock to break the world record.
“But the encouraging thing was there have been some times in the past when you’ve finished and you feel like you can’t straighten your legs and your lungs are burning.
“But I didn’t feel like that, I felt the best I’d felt for a long time.
“I just hope I feel like that on the day of the Olympics.
“It gives us a lot of confidence that we can go quicker again.”