Born: May 24, 1997;

Died: August 9, 2021.

OLIVIA Podmore, who has died aged 24,was a leading New Zealand track cyclist who blazed a trail for female sprinters in the sport, and represented her country at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the Commonwealth Games two years later.

“I love the speed, especially flying into the corners at 60-plus kilometres per hour on the track,” she once said.

“My biggest influence has definitely got to be Victoria Pendleton [Britain’s former World and Olympic Champion track cyclist]”, she added. “Her character and strength that she showed in her days of racing help me strive to be at the elite level of competition that she was once at.”

Although she qualified for this year’s Tokyo Olympics, Podmore was not selected for the New Zealand team. Her sudden death came a day after the event finished, just as the country’s athletes were about to board a plane home from Japan.

Hours before her death, she wrote a revealing post, on Instagram, about the pressures of social expectations and of competing at such an elite level.

“Sport is an amazing outlet for so many people, it’s a struggle, it’s a fight but it’s so joyous.

“The feeling when you win is unlike any other, but the feeling when you lose, when you don’t get selected even when you qualify, when [you’re] injured, when you don’t meet society’s expectations such [as] owning a house, marriage, kids, all because [you’re] trying to give everything to your sport, is also unlike any other.”

Olivia Rose Podmore was born in Christchurch in 1997 to Nienke (née Tabak) and Phil Podmore, and attended Middleton Grange School.

Inheriting a love of cycling from both parents, but especially her mother – “She was always into her racing, so she definitely inspired me to hop on the bike and try it,” Olivia once said – she started riding BMX bikes at the age of eight and bought her first road bike four years later.

The BMX experience helped her with “getting aggressive and bike handling skills… being actually able to lean into my competition, elbow them, headbutt them if they’re headbutting me back”.

In 2014, aged 17, she came sixth in the Junior Track Cycling World Championships in South Korea.

A year later, in the same competition in Kazakhstan, she won a bronze medal in the individual 500m time trial – knocking almost a second off her own national junior record at the 2015 New Zealand Championships – and, with team-mate Emma Cumming, took silver in the team sprint.

“It is so exciting and such an honour to be up on that World Championship podium representing New Zealand,” she said with pride at the time.

As a junior cyclist, Podmore beat many national records for her age group and won four Oceania Track Championship titles and nine New Zealand titles, including all four sprint disciplines at her country’s 2015 championships.

On leaving school that year, she moved to Cambridge, Waikato, to train as an elite cyclist with the national team while studying part-time for a real-estate qualification. She had to battle back to fitness after a high-speed jet-ski crash at the end of the year in order to put herself in contention for selection.

“In hindsight, now that I am a full-time athlete, I probably should not have been doing it,” she admitted. “I was fortunate that the injury was just muscular and, with the help of the Cycling New Zealand staff, I was back on full training.”

She began 2016 by winning two medals for sprinting – individual bronze and team silver – in the New Zealand Championships, before heading for London to be paired with Natasha Hansen for the team sprint in the World Championships.

Then came her selection for the 2016 Olympic Games team, but medal hopes were dashed when she collided with two riders during her favourite event, the keirin, where cyclists pedal several laps around an indoor track at a controlled speed before sprinting to the finish.

She crashed to the velodrome floor, injuring her head and ribs, and finishing 25th, but she was back in the saddle to compete in heats of the individual sprint, coming 23rd. More happily, she and Hansen achieved ninth place in the team sprint.

Of her Rio experience, she said: “I think this was just a wee taster for me to feel what it was like and understand how it all rolls, so I think Tokyo is definitely the main goal.”

Podmore was New Zealand’s keirin champion in 2017 and, the following year, represented her country in the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast, coming sixth in the keirin event and reaching the quarter-finals of the individual sprint.

She also came first in the women’s 500m time trial at the 2019 Oceania Championships, although the four-discipline omnium competition was won overall by Amy Cure, of arch-rivals Australia.

Despite meeting the qualification criteria for this year’s Tokyo Games, she was not in the 15-strong track cycling team, selected by the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

Cycling New Zealand described her as a “much-loved and respected rider in our Cycling New Zealand squad and the wider cycling community.” Her friend, Eric Murray, a former Olympic rowing champion, said: “We have lost a sister, a friend and a fighter who lost that will of fight inside of her”.

Podmore is survived by her parents and brother, Mitchell.