Athens Olympics: sensational track racing weekend

The past few days on the track have seen a number of Olympic and world records fall - with two count

The past few days on the track have seen a number of Olympic and world records fall – with two count

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE This Athens track is fast: no fewer than six Olympic records, four of which were also world records, have been shattered in the past four days of sensational racing, that have seen Great Britain and Australia go head to head for medals time after time. Last Friday it was GB’s Chris Hoy who smashed the existing Olympic kilometre record, while on Saturday, his team mate Bradley Wiggins held off Aussie Brad McGee to win the individual pursuit title with a new Olympic record of 4:15:165. In the women’s time trial final, Anna Meares took gold for Australia and broke both world and Olympic records, while her team mates in the team pursuit smashed both records with a time of 3:56:610. Not to be left out, the Kiwis got in on the act too, with tiny Sarah Ulmer setting two new world and Olympic records on her way to gold in the women’s individual pursuit. Ulmer’s qualifying time over 3,000 metres was a record 3:26.400, but in the final she was even quicker, recording 3:24.537 to win the Olympic title. All these successes have been met with roars of approval from the packed velodrome stands, but most memorable of all perhaps was the clutch of Kiwis who gave an impromptu performance of the Maori ‘Haka’ as Ulmer stepped up to the podium. It has been a quality championship so far and at the moment the Australian team has the upper hand. The Aussies have recovered from the pre-Olympic doping controversy which overshadowed their preparation to score four medals so far – two gold and two silver – while Great Britain, who had a few ethical issues of their own to confront, hover close behind, with three medals – two gold and one silver. On Monday afternoon, the two nations went head to head again in an eagerly anticipated team pursuit final. As a swirling breeze blew through the flags hanging over the back straight of the velodrome, the British team left it to the last moment to confirm their choice of wheels. Ultimately however, Brailsford and his team had no need of the wind meter they had borrowed from the British sailing team. It was clearly not a double disc day. All the same, what is usually a test of skill, technique and power, also became a game of sleight of hand. In an atmosphere more like a Grand Prix, both teams anxiously studied each other’s equipment selection, with Team GB waiting until the last minute to unveil their wheel selection. Five spoke front wheels were chosen by both teams, but in the end it was technique, not equipment, that made the difference. The Australians led through each time check and with the GB riders struggling to turn over a huge gear, there was really only ever one team in it. “It was a shame that we couldn’t finish the job off but we got beaten by the best team in the world,” said a disappointed Cummings, after recovering his composure. “The breeze affected some of the interchanges too, but it was a combination of things that over four kilometres all added up to defeat.” Cummings had been pulled into the final four to replace veteran pursuiter Bryan Steel. “We took a gamble and lost,” said the team’s technical adviser, Chris Boardman. “Technically, they didn’t ride that well and Steve was half a wheel off the pace. We could have put somebody else in and maybe they would have done a better job, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. “We knew to win, we had to gamble,” Boardman added, “and if you gamble you have to be prepared to lose. Steve did the best job that he could, but we were reliant on the Australians making a mistake. We know they could be beaten because, physically, we have better guys, but technically they are so good.”