Medal-winning rower Romero strikes gold in cycling

MANCHESTER, England -- Rebecca Romero took a leap into the unknown when she decided two years ago to abandon her medal-strewn rowing career to take up cycling.

A year later, the British rider had a world championship silver medal. On Thursday, she struck gold.

Romero beat defending champion Sarah Hammer of the United States in the 3-kilometer individual pursuit on the track at Britain's national cycling center in Manchester, where she first started riding.

"When I made that decision [to change sports] I knew it was absolutely the right thing, no matter what I did. I have never questioned that since," Romero said after her world championship victory.

If the 28-year-old makes the podium in Beijing, she will be the first athlete to do so in two significantly different disciplines. She won an Olympic rowing silver in 2004 and was a rowing world champion in 2005.

"There's so much more to be working on and to be learning," Romero said. "After last year's results, to go that one step further was difficult, but I wanted it so badly."

She acknowledged that she had suffered some hard times, especially at the beginning of this year, when she doubted she was ever going to make it to the top.

But she said she "put the brakes on," recovered herself and then started working again.

"You ride with the passion, and if you start with that then it kind of feeds you really."

She paid tribute to the British women's endurance coach, Dan Hunt, who first encouraged her to take up cycling and has supported her ever since.

"This has probably been one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced, and if he wasn't there by my side I don't know where I would be," she said.

"I didn't know what was going to happen, but that part of your brain that all great athletes have just kind of flips the switch and makes it happen, and I am ecstatic."

The beaten champion, Hammer, also paid tribute to Romero, but said the field was still wide open for Beijing.

"It was a great ride by her. She has really stepped up, although she was already awesome last year," Hammer said.

"I am really pleased to be on the podium with her, and I couldn't be more pleased with my morning session. But a lot of people are still in it for Beijing. It's not just me and her, all the girls were so close."