Olympics: Rivals stunned by Golden Brits

Aussies lead praise of Beijing heroes

Some of Britain’s track cycling’s rivals would like to believe that their domination of the 2008 Olympics came four years too soon. 

But after leaving Beijing with an unprecedented gold haul and some stunning world record performances, Australia, France and the Netherlands have ultimately been forced to acknowledge defeat.

Australia’s head coach Shayne Bannan, who saw his defending Olympic pursuit team fail to medal as the Brits set a new world mark of 3min 53.314sec, was among the rival coaches going back to the drawing board. “It’s been incredible to watch, and it has made a lot of teams sit up and take notice,” he said.

After dominating the boards of Athens four years ago, Australia were thankful to Anna Meares on the final day after she won their only track medal, a silver from the women’s sprint behind Britain’s Victoria Pendleton.

Yet despite being almost 10 years in the making, Britain’s seven-gold plunder at the velodrome was preceded by a welcome gold and silver in the women’s road races. Welshwoman Nicole Cooke launched Team GB’s gold campaign by winning the road race and Emma Pooley claimed silver, behind American Kristin Armstrong, in the women’s time trial.

Then came the track, where the Brits won an amazing seven of ten golds for a total of 12 of the 30 track cycling medals. The only sour note for Britain was Shanaze Reade’s last-gasp crash which denied her a possible BMX gold.

In all, a total of 14 cycling medals, eight of which were gold, proved a significant contribution to Britain’s total haul of 47.

Britain’s track cycling chief, Dave Brailsford, said he doesn’t plan on falling prey to the “very British” worry of winning too much ahead of plans for the London Games in 2012. “It doesn’t fit into my vocabulary, I can tell you, and we’ll keep on going,” he said. “That’s what I’m paid for, to win Olympic medals.”

Bradley Wiggins, who joined former Olympic rowing silver medallist Rebecca Romero in winning the individual pursuit and thus defending his crown, was more than frank in his appraisal of his team’s status. “We’re just pissing all over it, to be quite frank. In eight years, we have become a dominant force right across the board,” he said.

France left the velodrome with silver in the team sprint and bronze in the sprint thanks to Mickael Bourgain, and admitting they would have to up their workload ahead of London in 2012. “We work hard, but compared to the way the British work, we are amateurs,” said French sprint coach Benoit Vetu.

However, they saved face when scoring a one-two in the women’s BMX thanks to Anne-Caroline Chausson and Laetitia Le Corguille, and scoring another one-two in the men’s mountain bike race with Julien Absalon defending his title.

In the final, Reade crashed out of the race when she got tangled with Chausson on the final bend. It appeared a dubious manoeuvre on the part of the 19-year-old two-time world champion, and Chausson – a 16-time world mountain bike champion who only returned to BMX two years ago for the Games – was unforgiving.

“If you’re going to try and knock someone over, you get in about their body ­– not their back wheel,” said the 30-year-old, who then officially retired.

In the final cycling event of the Games, Absalon became the first rider to defend a men’s Olympic mountain bike crown, the 28-year-old finishing ahead of compatriot Jean-Christophe Peraud.

While Cooke was joined in topping the road race podium by Spaniard Samuel Sanchez, who won gold ahead of Italian Davide Rebellin, the men’s road events were arguably dominated by Swiss ace Fabian Cancellara.

Racing on his own after his only teammate crashed out in training, Cancellara secured a superb bronze behind Rebellin after closing a deficit late in the race by riding at speeds of up to 75 km/h. The Milan-San Remo champion then went on to crush his rivals in the time trial to add Olympic gold to two world time trial titles.

But with 10 of the 18 cycling golds won at the Laoshan velodrome, the big name of these Games was Chris Hoy, who helped Britain to team sprint gold and was peerless throughout the tough keirin and sprint tournaments.

Three years after being forced into racing the speed events following a decision to axe the kilometre – in which he is the reigning champion – from the Olympic programme, Hoy stepped up to the mark in style.

He became the first Briton to claim three golds at a single edition of the Games since Henry Cotton won three swimming gold in 1908. “It’s like he has swallowed a motorbike,” said Dutch rival Theo Bos, who was so blown away he said he is unsure whether he will go all the way to London in 2012.

 (c) AFP 2008

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