Sutton’s Joanna Rowsell may be an Olympic cycling gold medallist and world record holder but just eight years ago she could barely ride a bike without falling off.

Spotted by a talent team that toured schools in 2004, Rowsell, then aged 16, joined Sutton Cycling Club under the stewardship of Peter Fordham.

And although the former Nonsuch County School pupil kept falling off and lacked the confidence to go too fast, Fordham saw something in her physique that said she would be suited to the pursuit discipline.

Now Rowsell is Olympic team pursuit champion and Fordham, 70, could not be more proud.

The chairman and founder of Sutton Cycling Club said: “The talent spotting team was not looking for good cyclists but children who had certain physical attributes that might make them good cyclists.

“At that stage, Jo was not a very good cyclist, in fact I don’t think she had ever ridden a bike before.

“She wasn’t very skilful and fell off several times. She was actually quite scared of going too fast, which is hard to believe now.”

Rowsell and her Great Britain team-mates set a new world record of 3:14.051 in winning the gold ahead of the US at the Velodrome on Friday.

Fordham, a retired south London firefighter, said: “Although she was physically small, I could see she had the right physique so I recommended to a local coach that Jo went in the individual pursuit because there were only two people on the track and less chance of her falling off.”

Rowsell spent 18 months with Sutton Cycling Club before moving on to the Velo Club de Londres in Herne Hill.

She has since won three world championship gold medals and a European championship gold, but it all started with Fordham’s recommendation – although he takes no credit.

He said: “It was a recommendation of mine that pursuit racing would suit her skills – that was all. I take my hat off to her because she has shown great commitment, and we are all very proud of the fact that she is from the borough of Sutton, from a local school and started with our local club.”