The inspirational Olympic medallist and Bradford College graduate grew up in Bradford, the youngest of 4 children. She was an incredibly shy child, who survived school by being good at sport. Yvonne continued track and cross country running, but remarkably for an international cycling champion, she never rode a bike until she was 17 and went Youth Hostelling with friends. She then used it to commute to lectures for her BA (Hons) Leisure & Recreation degree.
Yvonne ran as a member of a local running club until she was 28 and then started dabbling in triathlons. She took up swimming and started getting the fastest times on the bike, though she still considered herself to be a runner. She was 8th in the World Fell Running Championships in 1988, but following an Achilles tendon injury, she decided to take 6 months off and focus on cycling. She recalled, “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I started doing longer rides. It seems funny now, but I thought I was doing well doing 25 miles. Later I cycled as many as 500 miles a week in training!” A fateful meeting with a coach when she was getting her bike repaired at a shop in Wibsey, led to training sessions where Yvonne pushed herself to the limit and beyond. Six months later, she entered a 25 mile time trial. She said, “I felt like I had done 1000 miles. It was windy and it seemed never ending. It was such a hard event I almost picked up the bike and threw it over a hedge!” But she persisted and after success in local time trials, she aimed for the national championships, winning a bronze medal in her first season. The next year she became national champion and the following year she made the Commonwealth Games in Canada. She said, “Six months before the Games I was knocked off my bike in the centre of Bradford. I broke a bone in my hand and I remember lying in the gutter telling people ‘I have to get to the Commonwealth Games.’ But I was rewarded for overcoming adversity with a gold medal. It was a defining moment – the switch to believe I was world class.”
Yvonne gained a top coach and began training more scientifically. She brushed aside a broken collar bone and confirmed her reputation by attempting and achieving the World Hour record. She bounced back from accidents and was selected for the 1992 Olympics in Atlanta, where she faced the bitter disappointment of 4th place and knowing that, at 35, this had probably been her last chance. She plateaued on an international level for a couple of years, but obstinacy and the dream of winning an Olympic medal pushed her to keep going. The steep hills of Bradford, where she did 90% of her training, and the harsh winters where she pedalled against horizontal rain, built her endurance and determination. She was further tested by several crashes and had epidural injections just to get on her bike due to a chronic back problem, but each morning she told herself that she could do it.
When the Sydney Games came doubt was behind her. She said, “I knew I had the form of my life. I won my bronze medal by 8/100th of a second. I was ½ a second behind with 250 metres to go. If I watch the race now, it looks like I was so far behind, how did I win a medal? At the time it was such a cauldron of noise and emotions, but on my bike I felt an incredible inner stillness and conviction that the medal was mine. On the podium in Sydney I was incredibly proud for my family and for me. I knew what it had cost. Six weeks later I became world champion at my home stadium in Manchester.” Yvonne was happy to retire at the top of her game. She was made an MBE for services to cycling in the 2002. After studying for a Diploma in Sports Massage & Physical Training, she now works as a sports massage therapist.
Yvonne McGregor MBE was photographed by Trevor Griffiths in Bradford on 23rd February 2012