Great Britain’s sprinters start their bid for precious metal with a gruelling day of team sprinting. Both the men’s and women’s team sprint events are run off in today’s two-and-a-half hour session that also includes men’s team pursuit qualifying.
The team sprint consists of three rounds in the Olympic Games, unlike at a World Championships where it is just two. The qualifying round allows each nation to set a time and then be ranked fastest to slowest.
The top eight go through to round one where the fastest team ride against the team ranked in eighth place, the second ranked team against seventh, and so forth.
The fastest two winning teams from round one go through to the gold medal final, the slowest two winning teams go through to the bronze medal final.
It’s a system that can throw up intriguing scenarios. In Athens 2004, the British trio of Craig MacLean, Jason Queally and Chris Hoy qualified eighth fastest and then rode off against the Germans in the first round.
The Germans beat them and went on to the gold medal final (which they won) and the Brits went out. Unfortunately for the Brits their losing time was faster than all the other winning teams (after they swapped Jamie Staff for Craig MacLean, who was recovering from a virus).
It’s a format that means the teams have to produce three world class rides if they want to medal, and tonight in the Olympic velodrome, they have to produce those three rides in a very short space of time.
At the World Championships in Melbourne this year, Great Britain failed to win a medal for the first time in 14 years when they were disqualified for changing outside the designated area. Encouragingly they posted one of the fastest times using 19-year-old Philip Hindes in man-one position.
An encouraging sign, as they haven’t posted a time anywhere near the national record they set at the 2008 Games (a world record at the time) when they went under 43 seconds for the three lap event.
“Since the Worlds its gone really well, we’ve taken significant strides,” said Sir Chris Hoy at the British team’s holding camp in Newport ahead of the Games. “We had a full dress rehearsal with three rides, the exact same time we’ll have on the day, that’s a tough schedule.”
“It’s gone very well. There’s more to come as well I think as we’re freshening up. Any medal would be an achievement and we’ll celebrate it, but that’s not saying we’re not hoping to win gold. It’s going to be so close. If you ‘re up there in the mix for the medals you could win any colour.”
“Really it’s between Germany, France, Australia and ourselves, and it will be very very close. We’ll be at our best since Beijing.”
Britain’s female sprinters face the same gruelling schedule on day one. At the world cup in London in February Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton won the event with a new world record. They didn’t medal at the World Champs as Varnish was recovering from an illness, but hope to be back to their best today.
Both set personal bests in training at the Newport holding camp and will have to go faster than ever if they want to win a medal in London. “I’m very happy with where I am right now,” said Pendleton. “Whether it will be enough, who knows. On the day who knows how fast everyone else is going to go.”
“Knowing I’ve done a lot, I’m very happy in what I’ve achieved over the last month. Since the worlds the build has continued and every session I’ve gone to I’ve taken away something positive.”
The Olympics will be Pendleton’s last every competition as she retires after the Games. “I’ve made my decision and I’ll stick to it. I’ve enjoyed my time as a track cyclist. I’ve been racing since I was nine years old and I’ve never missed a racing season since 1989, so I think people will forgive me for calling it a day.”
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