• Meares won gold in Athens in 2004 and in London in 2012.
  • 32-year-old will lead her country out in Rio as flag-bearer.

12 years on from her first gold medal success, Australia team captain and flag bearer Anna Meares is back to hone her reputation as her country's greatest-ever cyclist. Having won the sprint title in London four years ago, the 32-year-old will defend her crown in Rio de Janeiro, also competing in the keirin and team sprint events.

Her route to the top hasn't been easy. In 2004, she introduced herself to the world, winning gold in Athens after setting a new world record in the women's 500m time trial. But ahead of the Beijing Games four years later, the Queensland-native suffered a broken neck after a horrific crash at a World Cup event in Los Angeles in January that year.

Incredibly, she was back on her bike within 10 days, qualifying for the Games where only Victoria Pendleton's dominance saw her settle for silver in the sprint. It was in London where her dominance of cycling was truly rewarded, finally adding an Olympic gold to her 10 World Championship triumphs and five Commonwealth titles when Pendleton was relegated to second for an infringement. Meares collected her fifth Olympic medal in all, spoiling the party for the hosts a tad.

She has only got faster since then. In February 2015, she became the most successful female track cyclist when she powered to her 11th world title.

With her old sparring partner Pendleton having traded in her bike to become a jockey, Meares will be expected to retain her gold while simultaneously leading her country this summer.

In London four years ago, Meares walked out behind Lauren Jackson, Australia's now retired basketball hero. This time, she leads her country out, the first cyclist to do so since Dunc Gray in Berlin at the 1936 Games. "When you look at history, there have been very few Olympians, fewer Olympic champions and again, fewer flag bearers," she said.

Anna Meares
Meares will carry her country's flag in Rio this summer. Getty

"I dreamt of being an Olympian, of being an Olympic champion but never contemplated being a flag bearer. Of all of things I have achieved and I have done, carrying the flag for Australia is the greatest honour."

As the only Australian woman to have won two gold medals in cycling, another would see her move into the list of her country's top 10 Olympians, a table dominated by swimmers. Doing that will solidify her legacy as one of her country's all-time greats, but she has not ruled out improving on that further in Tokyo.

"I will retire one day, when I am not exactly sure," she said. "If I start thinking about retirement, then I could lose focus on working hard today. I've never looked past an Olympic cycle until I've completed it. There won't be any change in that."