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Between 1995 and 2000, Félicia Ballanger was invincible in the velodrome, dominating the individual sprint and 500m time trial events at the Olympic Games and the World Cycling Championships.
Born on 12 June 1971 in Vendée (FRA), Félicia Ballanger’s destiny was set from the moment her parents named her in honour of Felice Gimondi, the Italian cycling legend of the 1960s and 1970s. However, her road to the top was by no means easy. After gradually progressing to the level of national champion, in 1993 she suffered a severe injury that set her back several years.
Physically imposing, possessed of an iron will and an insatiable capacity for hard work, Ballanger was coached by former Olympic champion Daniel Morelon. She won her first world title in 1995 in Bogota (COL) in the sprint, before adding a second gold medal in the newly created 500m time trial. That double triumph was the launchpad for an incredible streak during which she remained unbeaten in both events until 1999, claiming a total of 10 world titles. She also improved the 500m time trial world record no less than seven times, reducing it to 34.010 seconds in 1998.
In her first appearance at the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992, Ballanger just missed out on a medal, finishing fourth in the sprint. On 27 July 1996, in Atlanta’s open air velodrome at Stone Mountain Park, Ballanger defeated Australia’s Michelle Ferris in two races in the final of the individual sprint to claim her first Olympic gold. The 500m time trial was added to the Olympic programme for the next Games in Sydney, and on 16 September 2000 at the Dunc Gray velodrome in Bankstown, the Frenchwoman was once again too fast for local hero Michelle Ferris, and China’s Cuihua Jiang, recording a winning time of 34.140. Four days later, she returned to the track for what would be the last time, in the final of the individual sprint. She had to dig deep into her reserves to overcome Russia’s Oksana Grishina in the best-of-three decider after each cyclist had won a race each. “Apart from my titles, I’d like people to remember me for my hard work, my perseverance and my modesty,” she said on taking her final bow.
In 2001, Ballanger was appointed Vice President of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), and Chair of the FFC’s Track Commission. She later moved to New Caledonia, the cluster of French-governed islands off the coast of Australia, where she took up a new role with the local ministry of youth and sport, overseeing policy on athlete health and antidoping. To this day, she remains the most successful French track cyclist of all time.