Philip Hindes looked like a kid riding his bike without stabilisers for the first time. Wobbling, bike bucking beneath him, he came to an ungainly halt 50 metres from the start. Disaster. Millions watching on TV groaned.
But Team GB’s team sprint effort wasn’t over. Teammates also put their hands up, they were allowed to start their effort and went on to win gold.
What a funny dichotomy. Moments later, a finicky ruling fairly but finely dumped Pendleton and Varnish out of team sprint medal contention, while another flimsy one kept the men’s trio in the race.
That rule in full, section 3.2.154 of the UCI rulebook: “In the event of a mishap, the team must restart at the end of the qualifying rounds.
Any team which may have been hindered by a mishap to its opponents may, by decision of the commissaires’ panel, be granted a restart at the end of the qualifying rounds. In the qualifying rounds a team may only be permitted two starts.”
A strange ruling?
Hindes and Team GB are fortunate. In this particular instance, it appears a strange ruling. In a 4 x 100 metre running race, if an athlete fell over at the start, the whole race wouldn’t be re-run. You get one chance in four years to do it right – that’s how the cookie crumbles.
But had Hindes had a puncture or a faulty chain, a lack of a second chance would have been very harsh.
Was his action particularly sportsmanly? No. But was it against the rules? Technically, no. A crash counts as a mishap. The team sprinters knew that and were within their rights to restart.
I applaud Hindes’s honesty – or is it naivety? – admitting to it afterwards, though British Cycling have since attempted to backtrack. “We were saying if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart. I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned,” he said.
Knowing about the reboot option, what other option did they have? Ride around for a slow time, wrecking four years of hard work? A bizarre sportsmanlike withdrawal from a justified second bite of the cherry?
Think about it. What would you have done? I’d have been sprawled ungainly on the deck in a heartbeat, just like Hindes. Some other committees are crying foul, but their riders would have done the same too.
There’s hypocrisy at play from areas of the press though. Had an Australian or German team sprinter done that and gone on to win gold, British journalistswould have seethed and pilloried them.
Some quarters have suggested it is against the spirit of the Olympic Games too. Well, what is the spirit of the modern Games?
It’s been recalibrated, one of ubiquitous sponsorship logos and expensive corporate seats going begging. Alongside this emphasis, a voracious, must-win attitude pervades on the field of play. It doesn’t have to be pretty.
Fastest, if not the fairest
This raw controversy will die down. The inconvertible remaining truth is that Team GB were the fastest.
The fact that Hindes, his heart racing, recovered from that ‘fall’ to clock a 17.2 opening leg in the gold medal leg, and that Great Britain shattered the world record, deserves as much shock and awe too.
Ultimately, track cycling is black and white. You either break the rules or you don’t. Much like Hindes’s aborted start, their actions were morally wobbly but lawful.
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