While Vicky stars in Strictly, I'll be trying to rebuild my own life after Olympic nightmare
21:08 GMT, 29 September 2012
Even now, two months after her heart was broken in London's Velodrome, Jess Varnish admits that the pain of disqualification from the Olympics is no easier to bear.
'It felt like someone had died,' she said. 'I knew it was wrong to feel like that and I told myself to pull myself together. I know it wasn't anything important in the real world but at that time, in that stadium, the Olympics were everything to me. It was like life or death.'
Horror: The moment Varnish and Victoria Pendleton messed up their changeover in the team sprint at London 2012
On Friday night, Victoria Pendleton will be watched by a television audience of millions as she takes a starring role in the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing, the first act in her new life since her retirement from sport after a much-garlanded career.
At the same time, thousands of miles away in South America, Varnish will be preparing to race for the first time since the infamous moment when, in partnership with Pendleton, her own Olympic dreams were shattered as the pair were disqualified in the women's team sprint, an event in which the Britons, who had broken the world record in qualifying, were favourites for the gold medal.
Shaping up: Olympic gold medalist Victoria Pendleton in rehearsals for the
new series of Strictly Come Dancing
While Pendleton knew she would be returning to the Veldrome for two further events, winning the keirin to claim the second Olympic gold medal of her stellar career as well as a silver in the individual sprint to add to the gold she had won at Beijing in 2008, Varnish vanished into the shadows.
For her, two and a half years' dedication were destroyed in the blink of an eye as they failed to make a legal changeover in the team sprint and were disqualified in the semi-finals.
Now Varnish must start out on the road to redemption – and the Rio Olympics in 2016. For the bright-eyed 21-year-old from Bromsgrove, the journey begins at a World Cup event in Colombia in 11 days' time.
Her expectations are not high, having started to train again only four weeks ago. Varnish says she cried alone during the sleepless nights that followed her disqualification in London, but remained with the team to provide support and encouragement as Pendleton's roommate in the Athletes Village.
'I was helping Vicky out, getting her food when she didn't want to stay in the apartment,' she recalled.
'It was her last-ever competition and I wanted her to go out with a bang. And she did.' Varnish was holding Pendleton's 10-week-old nephew, Nathan, in the Velodrome when Britain's best-known woman cyclist restored her reputation by winning the gold medal in the keiren 24 hours after being evicted from the team sprint. 'I ended up crying all over again,' said Varnish.
'I was happy to be with Vicky's family, sharing the moment with them, but it was sad to be back in the stadium where nothing had changed, really.'
Her parents had tried to comfort her on the night her world collapsed. 'We went to dinner but I didn't want to eat,' she said.
'I didn't want to do anything; but you can't really explain how you feel because you feel pathetic.
'It was hard to stay in the Village, to be around a team where almost everyone else had got gold medals apart from me. The Olympics had been all I thought of for two and a half years, just focusing on that one lap. I was crying a lot, but there was no one in the team I could talk to as I didn't want to affect the performances of others.
'But it was the right thing to support the team in any way I could and I'm proud of the way I reacted. But people think I am tougher than I actually am. I couldn't sleep for days afterwards.'
Varnish will continue her regular sessions with sports psychologist Steve Peters, the man Pendleton always called her 'mind mechanic', as her life gets back to normal.
Downer: Pendleton (right) and Varnish react after being disqualified
She misses Pendleton and they still meet regularly for coffee or dinner when time permits. Varnish laughs at the pain her friend has undergone in training for Strictly.
'She can only wear Ugg boots because her feet hurt so much,' said Varnish. 'Of course, we've spoken about what happened, and tell one another we had a medal stolen from us.'
As for the changeover that cost Varnish her dream, she remains angry that she and Pendleton could have made such a crucial error.
'As the lead rider, I had to pull up at a certain place and Vicky had to come through at a certain place,' said Varnish.
'We missed that point by a couple of centimetres, by one-hundredth of a second. But at the Olympics the judges were going to be on to that. You saw it happen to others; it happened to the Chinese after they thought they had won the gold medal.
Downcast: Jess Varnish reveals the heartache of missing out on the gold medal
'I was angry with what happened to us then and I'm still furious now. If you weren't angry at being disqualified from the Olympic Games, I think you'd have a problem. But I understand that I'm only 21, there is so much in my life and I have so much fire in my belly to prove that I've got what it takes.'
Varnish has never watched a replay of her Olympics and never will. 'What's the point' she said.
'But I know this will make me stronger. I don't think anything worse can happen in my cycling career unless I have a really bad crash.'
In the last week of the Games, Varnish at least had the distraction of assisting her boyfriend, BMX rider Liam Phillips.
'Liam made the Olympic final but he crashed at the last turn,' she said. 'We just had to laugh! When we talk about the Olympics, we ask each other: “What the hell happened”'
Track Cycling – October 11-13 Cali (Colombia)