Britain's most successful Olympian Sir Chris Hoy gives Team GB cycling another day in sun
Thursday, 02 August 2012
August 2 - Another good day for the host nation ended in near perfect fashion in the Velodrome, with Sir Chris Hoy and his team-mates (pictured) pedalling to the gold medal in the men's team sprint while setting a new world record time.
The result brought the 36-year-old Scot his fifth Olympic gold, matching oarsman Sir Steve Redgrave's tally and making him Great Britain's most successful Olympian by virtue of his solitary silver medal won 12 years ago in Sydney.
But an explosive opening night at the venue also had a controversial side, with the two fastest teams – China and Great Britain – being deprived of gold in China's case, and possible gold in Britain's, after being adjudged to have executed incorrect changeovers.
The decision excluded any possibility of a British team sprint double, and while Victoria Pendleton has opportunities to make amends it means her partner, Jess Varnish, will leave London 2012 without a medal.
It may also put pressure on the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport's governing body, to change or clarify the rules.
As it was, the highly partisan crowd, including Princes William and Harry, Kate Middleton, British Prime Minister David Cameron and former Prime Minister Sir John Major, missed out on a mouthwatering gold medal clash between two teams who had broken the world record three times between them in the course of the evening.
The gold medals went ultimately to Germany's Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel, with the Chinese having to be content with silver, after thinking they had won, and Australia taking bronze.
But, in spite of this, and another scintillating world record by the British team of Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh in the qualifying phase of the men's team pursuit, this was very much Hoy's night.
It nearly started disastrously in the qualifying race when the bicycle of Philip Hindes, the junior member of the British trio, toppled to the floor within yards of the start.
"I came off the gear, my back wheel slipped and I just totally lost control," Hindes explained later.
Thankfully, Britain was granted a restart, from which Hindes, Sir Chris and Jason Kenny, a dual Olympic medallist from Beijing 2008, duly scorched to an Olympic record of 43.065sec.
Under the format of the men's race, teams compete over three laps of the polished wood surface, with a different member of the team taking the lead on each lap.
In the first round proper, as decibel levels at the venue soared to heights probably never previously recorded at a track cycling race in Britain, the team went considerably better, charging around in a world record 42.747, equivalent to an average speed of some 63km/h.
With the gold medal match bringing them up against old rivals France, the noise levels inside the arena ratcheted up still higher.
Incredibly, the men in red, white and darkish blue managed to raise their game yet again, powering around in another world record time of 42.600, thanks in part to a superlative second lap by Kenny, who, like Hoy, now has a shot at two gold medals in his home Olympics.
Afterwards, an emotional Sir Chris paid tribute to the part played by the team-mate whom he edged out for the individual sprint title in Beijing four years ago, saying the lap he led was "just phenomenal – I was hanging on there".
He said he had always thought that winning his first Olympic gold medal at the Athens Games in 2004 would be the most memorable moment of his career.
"I never thought I would top that feeling – until tonight," he said.
"When I crossed the line and heard the roar I knew we had done it...
"I have been to four Games now; I think it has been the greatest Games so far."
Hoy also praised the backroom team whose meticulous attention to detail has been such a feature of the British track cycling team's stupendous success since it started to emerge as an international power 12 years ago at Sydney.
"It's great to have a team behind you [in which] you believe that everyone in their particular role is trying to be the best in the world," he said.
On matching Redgrave's tally of golds, Hoy said that to be mentioned in the same sentence as the great rower "you have got to pinch yourself really.
"I watched his five medals and I used to do a bit of rowing too...
"You cannot put into words the respect he has from all athletes."
Fittingly it was Princess Anne, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and competitor at the Montreal Games in 1976, who presented the medals to Sir Chris and the other male cyclists.
"I was just trying not to cry really, not to make myself look like a big baby," Hoy said of his latest Olympic podium experience.
It was the crowning moment of a second consecutive day in the sun for British cycling.
Whatever else London 2012 has in store in coming days – and it could include a sixth gold for Sir Chris in the keirin – for the home crowd at least, it is hard to see how tonight's opening British victory in the Velodrome can possibly be trumped.
July 2012: Sir Chris Hoy to carry Team GB flag at London 2012 Opening Ceremony
July 2012: British Cycling pick Kenny over Sir Chris for London 2012 sprint