We predicted the opening day of the London 2012 track programme would be explosive – we couldn’t possibly have known just how explosive it would be, with the fastest two teams – and two other top 6 teams – relegated from the Women’s Team Sprint competition. But away from the controversy, the velodrome extended its growing reputation for speed with World Records broken six times across today’s three discipline.
Women’s Team Sprint
The day started calmly enough with the Qualifying session for the Women’s Team Sprint getting us underway and going pretty much to form. Predictions of World Records in the London velodrome were well founded as the Great Britain team of Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton smashed the previous mark – set by Germany’s Kristina Vogel and Miriam Welte in Melbourne in April.
In what was expected to be a close heat against Anna Meares and Kaalre McCullough of Australia, Varnish and Pendleton took the record to 32.526 with Australia three tenths off their pace. The record didn’t last long. Shuang Guo and Jinjie Gong of China stormed round in 32.447 in the very next heat with Germany squeezing in between Great Britain and Australia on 32.630.
The Olympic format meant that the four fastest teams were seeded with Australia facing the Netherlands, Germany riding against France, Great Britain facing France and China facing the Netherlands in the final heat.
Australia beat the Netherlands with a slightly faster time than they’d managed in the qualifiers – 32.806 – but Germany went faster still in their heat, brushing aside Francee. We knew two of the teams for the medal rides, but we didn’t yet know which country.
Then the drama started. Great Britain demolished Ukraine with the fastest time of the round and it looked like they would be in the Gold medal ride with Australia relegated to the Bronze medal ride. On the form from Qualifying, Venezuela wouldn’t trouble China and it looked like a China vs Great Britain Gold Medal ride with Australia and Germany contesting the Bronze.
But before the final Heat began it was clear that something was wrong. GB team manager Dave Brailsford was in conversation with the Chief Commissaire and video footage was being reviewed. Could the unthinkable happen? Could Great Britain be disqualified in their home Olympics?
There was a precedent – Germany and Great Britain clocked the fastest and third fastest times in the Men’s Team Sprint at the World Championships in Melbourne but were relegated for the timing of the transition from Man 1 to Man 2. There’s an imaginary box in which the first rider must swing up and too early or too late and you’re out. It looked as though Jess Varnish had pulled up slightly too early.
The final heat – and the first few heats of the Men’s competition – took place while the debate raged, but no information was forthcoming. Then, after a couple of incorrect captions being displayed that showed an unlikely Germany vs Australia Gold Medal final – which sparked rumours that China, too, had been relegated – it was finally confirmed that Great Britain had been relegated and that China would face Germany in the Final with the Ukraine facing Australia for Bronze.
Jess Varnish’s Olympics was over – having produced a performance that fully rewarded four years of dedicated training for that one lap. Pendleton has two more events to come – the Sprint and the Keirin – but she was clearly devastated, apologising to reporters for letting down everyone that had supported them over the last four years.
But the drama wasn’t over. Australia took the Bronze medal with bags to spare while China beat Germany by a comfortable tenth of a second, clocking 32.691 seconds but while they were celebrating in the pit area and Vogel and Welte were talking animatedly with TV crews about their Silver medal, the news broke that China, too, had been relegated.
And so the hugely likeable reigning World Champions – despite being a distant third on the day – added Olympic Gold to their palmares as the controversy swamped Twitter and edged its way on to the News front pages.
GOLD Germany – Miriam Welte, Kristina Vogel
SILVER China – Shuang Guo, Jinji Gong
BRONZE Australia – Anna Meares, Kaarle McCullough
Men’s Team Sprint
All of which made the Men’s Team Sprint a little nervous. In fact, it started nervously even – before the drama in the Women’s competition had started to unfold – with the Poles suffering pedal problems and having to abort their heat with Venzuela. The Venezuelans aborted, too, so they were slotted back in to the middle of the running order. It didn’t much matter as they were the two squads that missed the cut from the Qualifying round.
Then we had a false start in the second Heat between Japan and China. They got away second time and China stormed round in a new Olympic Record of 43.751 with Japan not far behind on 44.342.
The top 6 in this competition all had an outside shot of a medal and next up we had Dawkins, van Velthooven and Mitchell of New Zealand against Borisov, Kucherov and Dmitriev of Russia. The Russian’s lowered the Olympic record to 43.681 while the Kiwis clocked 44.175 to go third fastest.
Beaten favourites four years ago in Beijing, the French trio of Baugé, D’Almeida and Sireau were beaten in the World Championships in April by the Australian trio of Perkins, Sunderland and Glaetzer – albeit after Germany had been relegated for changeover problems. And now they had the opportunity to take their revenge. They stormed out of the gate and rode away from the Australians, clocking 43.097 to break that Olympic record again and top the leaderboard.
Australia’s time of 43.377 was a long way back in time, but it put them second overall – and guaranteed bot
h teams a seeding in the First Round.
The final heat saw the Great Britain trio of Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy against the strongest line-up of the last few year Rene Enders, Robert Forstemann and Max Levy of Germany.
As they left the gate, Hindes stuttered, dropped on to the top tube of his back and slid down the banking and off the track. The young Brit – who rode for Germany as a Junior – could probably not have imagined a worse start to his Olympic career. But from then on, it just kept getting better.
At the restart Hindes shot out of the gate and led the trio to a 43.065 – just three hundredths quicker than the French – with the Germans disappointing by their own standards, taking the first ‘unseeded’ spot in fifth place.
In the First Round, though, they overcame their disappointment somewhat by beating Russia to book a spot in a medal ride. Australia took the next spot – clocking 43.261 to overcome China. France joined them from the next heat, clocking yet another Olympic Record of 42.991 to book a Finals spot – and, barring commissaires- in the Gold Medal ride. The only question was whether Great Britain or Japan would join them.
The result was never in doubt. Another lightning start from Hindes saw the World Record beaten at least – the GB time of 42.747 a full 1.2 seconds faster than their opponents.
And so the the Finals. Germany were too strong for Australia and took a well-deserved Bronze. But the Gold Medal ride was an exhibition. Hindes had, apparently, been told just to hang on to Baugé to give the rest of the squad a chance, but with an opening lap rapidly dropping into the 17.2s, he could do better than that. He was fractionally quicker than Baugé – 5 thousandths of a second – and set up an unforgettable ride. Kenny took three tenths out of D’Almeida and Hoy was a sensational half a second quicker than Sireau on the final lap. Great Britain hadn’t just taken the Gold Medal, they’d smashed the World Record (again) taking the mark down to 42.600.
GOLD Great Britain – Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny, Chris Hoy
SILVER France – Grégory Baugé, Michael D’Almeida, Kévin Sireau
BRONZE Germany – Rene Enders, Robert Forstemann, Maximillian Levy
Men’s Team Pursuit
Asking the sprinters to ride three Team Sprints in one session is marginal. Asking the endurance riders to do the same with the 4km Team Pursuit would simply not be possible – even if the Schedule allowed.
So the competition follows the same, basic format with 10 nations attempting to qualify for eight places in the First Round. The two differences are that the Qualifying takes place 24 hours before the First Round and the teams that do get through all get two rides on the second day – effectively Gold, Bronze, 5th-6th and 7th-8th Finals.
The real questions that qualifying was expected to answer – apart from which two teams would fail to make the cut – was how close Great Britain and Australia would be and how much progress Russia had made to close the gap to them.
Some of the answers were predictable – Korea’s excellent recent progress – that got them to the Olympics – wasn’t quite enough to get them through to the First Round. Some weren’t – Colombia’s form saw them qualify while Belgium suffered a setback and won’t get to ride tomorrow.
Great Britain and Australia were the quickest two teams – by some margin; but they weren’t even close. Great Britain clocked a World Record time of 3:52.499 and looked comfortable while Australia lost a man with over 1km to go and looked ragged over 3 seconds back.
Only a fool would rule Australia out at this point, but with New Zealand a further two seconds behind, it’s hard to see anyone else riding back in to contention tomorrow.
1 Great Britain 3:52.499 WR
2 Australia 3:55.694
3 New Zealand 3:57.607
4 Denmark 3:58.298
5 Russia 3:59.264
6 Spain 4:02.113
7 Colombia 4:03.712
8 Netherlands 4:03.818
9 Belgium 4:04.053
10 Korea 4:07.210
First Round Draw
Spain vs Colombia
Russia vs Netherlands
Australia vs New Zealand
Great Britain vs Denmark