In the second of my own rankings of the all-time greats in different sports I turn my attention to cycling. Women have only relatively recently competed in major championships on the track. World championships only began in the late 1950s and women only started Olympic track competition in 1988.
It is quite hard to compare across the disciplines because in recent years there have been more medals available to competitors in sprint disciplines than in longer events. A simple comparison of the number of medals won can be misleading. To try and counteract this I take the number of years in which a cyclist has won titles rather the total number of titles. Another complication is the sheer number of events now. Up until the 1970s the only events on the track were a sprint and a pursuit race so cyclists only had one opportunity for a gold each year. However, the strength of competition has improved since those days and I have to take that into account.
Here are my top ten. It has to be said that this has been difficult to choose. Every one of these cyclists has won titles in either five or six years and there is nobody head and shoulders above anyone else.
10. Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel (Netherlands) – Won the world pursuit title in 1990 and then three more times from 2001 to 2003. She won the Olympic title in 2000. Also set a world record for 1 hour.
9. Natalia Tsylinskaya (Belarus) Won eight world track titles between 2000 and 2006. Five in the 500m time-trial and three in the sprint. She did the sprint/time-trial double three times.
8. Beryl Burton (Great Britain) – won the world pursuit title five times. In 1959 and 1960, 1962 and 1963 and 1966. Won another six medals in the event.
7. Galina Tsareva (USSR) – winner of six world titles in the sprint, equalling the most in the event. She won three in a row from 1969 to 1971 and then three more between 1977 and 1979.
6. Anna Meares (Australia) – Winner of ten world titles. Three in team sprints and seven in individual events. Her first win came in the 500m time-trial in 2004. She won that event three more times and at the 2004 Olympics. She also won the sprint title twice and the keirin once. She won the Olympic sprint in 2012 and set world records at 500m and sprint.
5. Rebecca Twigg (USA) – Won the world pursuit title six times. Her first title was in 1982 and her final title came in 1995.
4. Tamara Garkouchina (USSR) -the first woman to win the world pursuit title six times. She first won it in 1967 and then again each year from 1970 to 1974.
3. Victoria Pendleton (Great Britain) – winner of nine world titles and two Olympic golds. She jointly holds the record for the most sprint titles with six between 2005 and 2012 and won Olympic gold in 2008. She won two world golds in team sprints and in 2007 won triple gold in sprint, team sprint and Keirin.
2. Felicia Ballanger (France) – unbeatable in sprints and time trials between 1995 and 2000. She won both the sprint and 500m time trial events at every world championship from 1995 to 1999, a total of ten golds. She won the sprint at the 1996 Olympics and did the sprint/time-trial double at the 2000 Games. Also set six world records for the 500m.
1. Galina Yermolayeva (USSR) – the first woman to win six world titles at the sprint. She won her first title in 1958 and won it again for the next three years. She regained the title in 1963 and after winning five silver medals and two bronzes in the following years won the title again in 1972. Her total of six world titles and fourteen medals at world championships at one event is unsurpassed. Her supreme longevity at the top of her event gets her my vote as number one.