Britain beat France to team sprint gold
Scotland's Chris Hoy anchored Britain to victory in the coveted Olympic team sprint final here Friday as track cycling's global pacesetters made the perfect start to the Beijing Games.
Hoy, who is aiming for a further two gold medals in the five-day, ten-final meet, led Britain home in 43.128 seconds after equally stunning rides from England's Jamie Staff and team newcomer Jason Kenny.
World champions France, the bronze medallists in Athens, took the silver in 43.551secs with defending champions Germany beating Australia to the bronze. France have been the world champions in the three-lap power event for the past three years and Hoy knew Britain would have to produce something special to take gold.
In a thrilling finale, which saw Kenny's impressive pace briefly push Hoy to his limits, their combined efforts simply proved too much for the French.
"To beat the French by half a second made it exciting," said Hoy. "It took every inch of effort to beat them as they have been invincible. We had to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. To win a gold medal as part of a team is so special, and quite emotional."
Staff, Kenny and Hoy proved unstoppable in the initial qualifying round where they posted the fastest time ever recorded in the event in 42.950. It left French anchor man Arnaud Tournant very impressed.
"My first reaction was, 'nothing special', because I was trying to concentrate on the next race coming up," said Tournant, now a friend of Hoy's but for many years the Scot's biggest rival. "Afterwards, I saw it was a very fast time. But for us it's no coincidence that they made the final and then raced so fast."
Britain were then slower in the first round in 43.034, but still the fastest, giving France - who clocked 43.656 - another reminder of the improvements they have made since finishing second behind them at the world championships.
Hoy admitted France's dominating ride in Manchester in March had left him with doubts for Beijing.
"The French have been so dominant. To beat us by such a big margin in Manchester, I thought it would be difficult (in Beijing)," added the Scot, who now has two Olympic titles having won the kilometre crown in Athens. "You can expect to win any races, no matter how good you are. We weren't aiming for a 43.2 to win, we just knew we had to go quicker."
France had chopped and changed their trio of riders, replacing 14-time world champion Tournant with Mickaël Bourgain for the first round, before putting Tournant back in for the final. Tournant is competing in his last Olympics and ahead of his final race, in the men's keirin on Saturday, he was buoyant.
"It was a big pleasure for us to make the final, and it's still a pleasure to win silver."
But for middle man Kevin Sireau, who will aim for revenge against Hoy in the individual sprint, the medal was bittersweet.
"It's my first Olympics and it's great to get a medal, but it's not the right colour. It's a bittersweet feeling I have, but I'll be giving everything I've got against Hoy in the sprint."
It may also be the final Olympics for Staff, a former BMX professional rider who has battled his way to a team sprint starting spot in the past two years. Aged 35, he admitted the obvious talents of 20-year-old English compatriot Kenny left him with a dilemma.
Asked if this was his last chance for a medal, Staff said: "Absolutely, especially when you see young riders coming up like Jason, who is only 20, and there's a few others. I'm 35 but I don't know if I'm thinking about London in 2012. Look at (2000 kilometre champion) Jason Queally. He's just put four years of hard work in and he didn't get picked for the Games."
Men's individual pursuit: Wiggins sets Olympic pursuit record
Britain's search for more Olympic track cycling glory was given a huge boost Friday in the qualifying sessions for the men's and women's individual pursuit. And it could come with the additional bonus of Bradley Wiggins breaking compatriot Chris Boardman's longstanding world record of four minutes 11.114 seconds for the 16-lap race against the clock.
Already Britain's most decorated Olympic cyclist with four medals, Wiggins began the defence of his title with a new Games record of 4:15.031 in winning his qualifying race. Wiggins brushed aside concerns over a recent virus by hammering over the 250km track to pip his old record of 4:15.165.
British track chief Dave Brailsford said the 27-year-old Londoner can go faster in either the first round or the final - both of which are raced on Saturday.
"To come out and ride a personal best is what the Olympics are all about. The (world) record is on the cards," said Brailsford.
Wiggins will also compete in the men's team pursuit, in which Britain are world champions and world record holders, and in the Madison in which he is world champion with Mark Cavendish.
Wendy Houvenaghel then clocked the fastest time in qualifying for the women's individual event, which is held over the shorter distance of three kilometres, compared to four for the men.
The Northern Irishwoman, a bronze medal winner at world level, clocked 3:28.443 secs to claim her place in the first round alongside reigning world champion and team-mate Rebecca Romero. Romero, an Olympic medallist in Athens four years ago where she won silver in rowing's quadruple sculls, finished second in qualifying in 3:28.641.
Another Briton, Steven Burke, qualified for his final after posting the fifth fastest time.
One of the biggest shocks of the men's session was the failure of either of Australia's two pursuit riders, Brad McGee and Brett Lancaster, to qualify among the fastest eight. McGee, the silver medallist in Athens, said he had simply failed to live up to expectations.
"That was not the Bradley McGee I expected to be. You come in with a positive mindset and in really good shape, but it just didn't turn out," said McGee, who suffered a broken collarbone in a crash in May.
"No Olympic preparation has been perfect. At 32 (years of age), it's just not happening any more, but so goes life."
New Zealand's Hayden Roulston was impressive in qualifying, but admitted he faces a big ask if he makes it to Saturday's final.
"I think anyone is beatable but you have to cut your head off to beat Bradley (Wiggins)," said the New Zealander.
American Taylor Phinney, who only started track racing 10 months ago but has made stunning progress since and become the US champion, also qualified - but admitted he had suffered in doing so.
"That's the hardest pursuit I've ever done. I couldn't even walk down the ramp afterwards!" said Phinney, the son of 1984 Olympic champion Connie Carpenter and Olympic time-trial bronze medallist Davis Phinney.
Ahead of his bid to make some Olympic history himself, the 19-year-old has no doubts about who the pacesetter will be on Saturday.
Phinney added: "Wiggins breaking the Olympic record on this track is incredible. That gives me hope for tomorrow."