Big things were expected from Britain’s track cyclists at the London Olympics, but no one could have predicted the drama that unfolded on the opening night in the velodrome.
World records were smashed, teams were disqualified, but most importantly for the home team a gold medal landed in their camp at the end of an exceptional session of racing.
Sir Chris Hoy anchored the British team sprint trio to gold in a world record time of 42.600 seconds to beat the French and earn him his fifth Olympic gold medal, putting him level with Sir Steve Redgrave.
The speed that Hoy completed his final lap suggests there’s more to come from the Briton when he rides the keirin later in the program.
The British trio were faster than the French over each of the three laps. 19-year-old Philip Hindes smashed his personal best with a 17.274 second opening lap, then Jason Kenny was significantly faster than Kevin Sireau over the second lap and Hoy anchored the ride with a sub 13 second lap – the only rider to do so.
It wasn’t a win, it was a demolition of the French team as the Brits won by over four tenths of a second – a margin almost never seen in this event – and a third of a second faster than the British trio went in Beijing.
Hindes was a standout performer. Fast tracked in to the British team for the world championships in April, he beat his standing start lap personal best by two tenths of a second tonight, and that after a shakey start.
In qualifying, his first experience of the Olympics, his rear wheel slipped coming out of the gate and he lost control of his bike. As he entered the first banking he dropped to the ground to bring about restart. In his interview on the BBC after the podium presentation he said he had crashed on purpose to earn a restart because he wasn’t please with his start. In the press conference minutes later he changed his tune and was adamant that he had simply lost control when his wheel slipped and never regained it.
No other teams have appealed the result and no repercussions are expected, although others might not be happy in winning in such a way.
There was more drama in the women’s team sprint. Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Varnish had earned themselves a gold medal ride against the flying Chinese riders who set two world records with their first two rides.
But the commissaires were watching their first round race against the Ukraine on their monitors over and over again. GB’s performance director Dave Brailsford was in their box, looking agitated and obviously expecting the worst.
Minutes later and Brailsford walked back to the GB pit in the track centre and ran his finger tips across his throat. The GB pair had been relegated behind Ukraine in their first round ride, and were out of the competition. Pendleton and Varnish immediately packed their bags and left the venue so as not to affect any of the other British athletes. Booing rang out for the commissaires but their decision was made.
They were the second fastest pair in the competition and had a guaranteed silver medal, but it wasn’t to be.
The ruling is that the first rider must not draw away (swing up) more than 15 metres before the end of the lap. It was the same ruling that saw the British and German teams relegated at the track World Championships in April, and everyone knew the commissaires were going to strictly adhere to that rule this week.
There was more to come. The final ended up as Germany versus China as the two fastest winners of their first round rides. China, after setting two consecutive world records, duly won.
The German pair of Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel were being interviewed by the BBC when someone said; “look at the screen. You’ve won!”
The Chinese pair had been relegated for the exact same thing, and the Germans were promoted to the gold medal. The Germans were only in the gold final because Great Britain’s relegation meant the Germans were the second fastest team from the first round, meaning they benefited from both relegations.
More world records
The world record also fell in the team pursuit when the British quartet of Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh and Steven Burke flew around the track in 3:52.499 minutes.
They were over three seconds faster than the Australian team who lost Glenn O’Shea after just over half way. But the Australians started their ride knowing they only had to beat the 3:57 minute ride of New Zealand and always looked in control. They will, however, need to up their game considerably when it gets to the finals.
If Great Britain make it through to the gold medal final – as they should – that race threatens to bring the house down if the noise in the velodrome today is anything to go buy.
When Great Britain won the team sprint the crowd went wild. They continued to go wild for a good ten minutes after the medal ceremony when the riders walked around waving to the tune of David Bowie’s Heroes. It was a moment to savour, and the emotion even got to Hoy who had to close his eyes and take a deep breath as the crowd sang the national anthem.
Hoy had to wipe away the tears as he stepped of the podium, but was still red-eyed when he came to the press conference a while later. With form like this, there’s every chance he will be back on the podium for the keirin when he bids to become the first Briton to win six Olympic gold medals.
You wouldn’t bet against him, or any of the other British riders on the evidence of tonight.
Iain Dyer, Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton go wild as Great Britain win first gold
Gold again! Great Britain haven’t won in this event since the Beijing Olympics
Hindes hits the deck
London 2012: Live text coverage of cycling events
>> Struggling to get to the shops? Try 6 issues of Cycling Weekly magazine for just £6 delivered to your door <<
London 2012: Latest news
London 2012: Team info
London 2012: Event guides
London 2012: Reports
London 2012: Photos
London 2012: Podcasts