So back to Rio for a moment and a look at how the track finished up. Last time I wrote on Monday we had about a day and a half two go and four gold medals still up for grabs in the men and woman’s Kieren and Omnium. Both gripping events.
In the Omnium, Mark Cavendish finally got his Olympic medal, though he had to settle for silver behind Italian (and Team Sky rider on the road) Elia Viviani. Laura Trott took the woman’s Omnium gold with an absolute dominant performance in which he finished 1st in the individual pursuit, elimination race and flying lap, 2nd in the scratch race and time-trial, and 7th in the points race.
It was also Trott’s fourth Olympic gold. No other British female has won more than two Olympic gold medals. Added to her boyfriend Jason Kenny’s haul, after he won gold in a thrilling Keirin, the pair now have ten gold medals in their home between them. Just a few shy of that in the Michael Phelps household!
And speaking of the Keirin: The woman’s was won by Elis Ligtlee of the Netherlands but it was the men’s final that contained all the drama.
Twice the race was stopped when it appeared that the riders had jumped the Derny bike before it had left the track. It also appeared the Derny was slow to leave the track but it was insufficient proof that it had been jumped too soon that led to them restarting each time without a disqualification. It seems crazy that there wasn’t a camera on that line to say for sure, but when the videos that are available prove inconclusive, it’s hard to throw someone out of such a big event. And one of those was Kenny himself but, really, what rival wanted him out under those circumstances. How would the gold medal have felt with the knowledge that Kenny had been DQ’d for something so slight.
Rules are rules though and had it been completely evident he jumped the Derny, then he rightly would have been gone. He wasn’t and as it turns out he was indeed the fastest man because once the race was run in all its drama it was Kenny who timed the start of his sprint to perfection to close the gap to the front three and come around on the final bed to take a stunning win and his third gold medal of these games.
And so ended a thrilling Olympics in the velodrome and what a games for the British squad. The track medal table stood as follows:
Great Britain (6G, 4S, 1B) = 11
Netherlands (1G, 1S, 0B) = 2
Germany (1G, 0S, 1B) = 2
China (1G, 0S, 0B) = 1
Italy (1G, 0S, 0B) = 1
United States (0G, 2S, 0B) = 2
Australia (0G, 1S, 1B) = 2
Russia (0G, 1S, 1B) = 2
New Zealand (0G, 1S, 1B) = 1
A superb achievement but what is par for the course in the current era is that with success comes scrutiny, and worse, speculation and even allegation. It’s one thing when it comes from people on the likes of Twitter, but even fellow competitors were questioning how the British team had come from poor form in recent championships to dominating these games. The questions are fine and they’re there to be asked by the media, but when they come off as insinuations as much as questions, it doesn’t sit well. Especially not when it’s other competitors. It makes them look like sore losers.
And the questions have been answered before for those who care to listen. The problem is when those asking the questions don’t agree with the answers and pretend no answer was given. The British team have talked of many reasons they have done well in this discipline and why they have peaked for the games, without giving away every single secret that could be used by rivals.
The fact that so much money is put into the program allowing the athletes so much time to put towards their training and preparation is one thing. The fact that this money demands results are produced at the Olympics rather than anywhere else is another reason. Even the world championships are seen as preparation by this group to do well at the Olympics and it’s those results that ensure the funding will continue. Everything is built around peaking for this week every four years; the rest is just part of that process.
And a lot of water has run under the British track bridge too. This isn’t as though they have come from nowhere in 2016 to raid the podium. This is the third games in which the British track system has produced the goods. In that time a lot of riders and personnel have come and gone, medals have been won and lost, and yet there has not been a hint of a positive test, either in real-time or through retroactive testing, and there has been no former disgruntled rider or employee who has spoke out about anything questionable with regards to performance enhancing drug use.
Skepticism is well and good, but eventually — like, say, after three Olympics — it has to be followed up with a little proof.
That topic shouldn’t be where this thing is left however. Without that proof, I can do nothing else but tip my cap at their performance. Jason Kenny’s three golds to level Sir Chis Hoy, Laura Trott becoming the most decorated female British Olympian with four goals in total, and a wrath of other successes and world records. Where does the program go from here? There’s enough youth to think that it can continue and with this level of funding, talent scouting, facilities, coaching and know how, you get the feeling it won’t end here. The rest will have to find a way to step up.
Olympic cycling doesn’t end here. There’s BMX racing going on, and on the weekend there will be the woman and men’s mountain bike racing where Peter Sagan will look to make a remarkable transition from road to MTB in the space of a month and compete for a medal.