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WHY RIO CAN BE WELSH STARS Becky's smiles better as she gears up for medal charge.

Byline: GARETH GRIFFITHS gareth.griffiths@walesonline.co.uk

BECKY James will be smiling all the way to the Rio Olympics after a circuitous journey featuring gold, illness and injury.

The gold came in Minsk at the 2013 Track World Championships, where she won the individual sprint and Keirin titles, events she will contest in Brazil.

The illness was a cancer scare following a routine smear test and after a knee injury which threatened to end her cycling career.

The 24-year-old from Abergasvenny has recovered to travel to her first Olympics - she was an unused reserve for London 2012 - with an open mind and a big smile.

"This is the mindset I went into Minsk with," said James.

"I knew I was going pretty well, but I didn't know how the rest of the world were going.

"I knew if there were people faster than me then I'd done everything I could.

"I feel the same with this. I've had really consistent training and I'll go in, give it 100 per cent and see where it gets me. "I know I've done all the hard work I can possibly do and I've done everything right for as long as I can.

"I'm excited to see where I get to over the next couple of weeks."

James proved herself as a natural successor to Victoria Pendleton, who retired after London 2012, by winning four medals in Minsk, but she was then derailed by the knee injury. She made her British team return in December 2015.

"It was a really tough year for me in 2014 when I first got injured," added James, who won Keirin bronze at March's Track World Championships in London.

"I didn't get back to full fitness until early on this year.

"It's been a long, hard journey. But after I got some good consistency under my belt I could see progression all the time.

"It means the world to me. It may have broken me quite a lot if I hadn't been selected, after all the hard work I've put in and all the rehab I did, not riding my bike for four months.

"I'm just super-excited to be going." Britain did not qualify for the two-woman, two-lap team sprint in Rio, the start of a sequence of events which led to the de-selection of Jess Varnish, allegations, denials and the resignation of technical director Shane Sutton.

James has not been involved in the team event since returning from injury, instead focusing on her individual events, which begin with the Keirin on August 13. The sprint starts on August 14.

She has previously said Sutton will be missed in Rio, but says the team, which includes Mark Cavendish and Sir Bradley Wiggins, is in expectant mood.

Britain won seven out of 10 events at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics.

James added: "It's strange, because there's been so much negativity around British Cycling, but once everyone's training together, all everyone's focusing on is Rio.

"Everyone's bouncing off each other. I think everyone's really excited." James will be watched in Rio by her boyfriend, Wales and Lions rugby union wing George North, plus a large family presence.

Her grandparents, Kathleen and Ioan, witnessed her feats in Minsk and will join her parents, David and Christine, in Brazil.

That is made all the more special for James as her parents are often absent to care for her severely disabled sister Bethan.

"Because of my youngest sister, they never get to come anywhere together," said James, who has four sisters and a brother.

"It's a big thing for both my mum and dad to go away, (but) it's only six days.

"Mum's never been on a long-haul flight before. She's a little bit nervous about flying.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I'm glad they can experience it with me."

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Becky James out in front at the 2013 UCI
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EXBE
Date:Jul 31, 2016
Words:650
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