Olympic Track Day 1: Gold number 5 for Hoy as GB male sprinters win, but women relegated with final in sight
Hoy joins Redgrave on five golds as he, Hindes and Kenny beat French, but illegal change costs Varnish and Pendleton dear
A evening of high drama in the Velodrome has seen Sir Chris Hoy win the fifth gold medal of his career in the Team Sprint alongside Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes, but Britain's female sprinters missed out as Victoria Pendelton and Jessica Varnish seemed to have reached the final but were relegated for an illegal changeover. The same would happen to China, who appeared to have beaten Germany in the final, but were relegated to second.
It was also an evening when records tumbled - Great Britain's men's pursuit team shattered the world's best time, as did both the male and female team sprint line-ups, although the latter's time, set in qualification, would immediately be beaten by China's Gong Jinjie and Guo Shuang. For both pairs of women, though, that would be the high spot of the evening as the strict application of the rules by the UCI commissaires meant that the two quickest teams both missed out on gold.
Women's Team Sprint
Varnish and Pendleton had got their campaign to win the first ever Olympic women's team sprint title off to the best possible start as they set a new world's best time of 32.526 in their qualifying heat against Australia's Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch.
World champions - and, until moments earlier world record holders - Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel of Germany went in the next heat, which was also the last one of the qualification round, but it was their opponents, China, that bettered Great Britain's time to qualify in top place, setting a time of 32.447.
Eight teams qualified for the first round, where Great Britain lined up in the third heat against Ukraine, their time of 32.567 being the quickest of the six set to date ahead of Germany and Australia. In the final heat against Venezuela, the Chinese pair stormed to another world's best time of 32.422 to set up what looked set to be a final against the hosts.
However, with TV cameras picking out British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford in earnest discussion with UCI commissaires in the centre of the track, it quickly became apparent that there was a problem, with Great Britain set to be relegated after Varnish was adjudged to have pulled over too early after leading out Pendleton.
For a few seconds, it seemed as though the judges had applied discretion and would let the British pair race for gold, but moments later it was confirmed that it would be Germany, not Great Britain, that would contest the final this evening, with Varnish and Pendleton relegated to last place. Australia, meanwhile, will race Ukraine for bronze.
"It was just we didn't change over in the right zone on the track," Pendleton told the BBC's Jill Douglas afterwards. "It's really hard when you're going at that speed and I was Jess's wheel, you know, it's so easy if Jess moves up slightly, I just go. That's what happened.
"We've never really had an illegal change before so it's not something we've realy been too concerned about in the past, but it's just one of those things that happens, you know. It's not Jess's fault, it's not my fault, we're both partly to blame really.
"We were probably just a bit too overwhelmed by the whole thing, a bit excited about our ride, a bit too eager - we should just have kept a lid on it a bit more I think."
Pendleton, who said that her second lap was the fastest she had ever done, now goes on to defend her individual sprint crown as well as going in the new event for the Olympics of the keirin, while the one rider per country rule means that Varnish's Games are over and her next chance for an Olympic medal will come in Rio in 2016.
Great Britain's relegation meant it was Ukraine who went through to face Australia in the bronze medal run-off, Meares and McCulloch dominating throughout to take the medal, albeit not the one they would have come to the Games hoping to win.
Few would have predicted that neither Great Britain nor Australia would contest the gold medal, nor that China would go into that race as the fastest pair in the world. The German world champions ran the Chinese close, but Shuang held off their challenge to clinch gold, or so she thought - moments later, the Chinese, like Great Britain before them, were relegated for committing the same offence.
The Chinese at least, get the silver medal, since relegation applies only to the round they were actually competing in at the time the offence was committed, in this case, the final; there was no such consolation for the British pair, who were demoted to last place in the First Round.
Welte and Vogel were unaware of the twist of fortune that saw them add Olympic gold to the world championship they won in April until Jill Douglas, of all people, pointed to her laptop to show them that the Chinese had been relegated.
Men's Team Sprint
Great Britain's defence of the title won in Beijing got off to a dramatic start when 19-year-old Philip Hindes, making his Olympic debut alongside defending champions Jason Kenny and Sir Chris Hoy, encountered some kind of problem as he drove off from the starting gate to lead off the final qualification heat against Germany, somehow managing to stay upright.
Following several minutes' delay, Germany went off quickest at the restart but Kenny closed the gap before Hoy stretched it out, setting a new Olympic record of 43.065 with world champions France posting the second quickest time ahead of Australia and Russia.
There was no repeat of that earlier problem for Hindes in the First Round race against Japan, who set a new personal best for the first lap of 17.2 seconds as Britain qualified quickest for the final, where they met world champions France, in a new world best time of 42.747 seconds. Australia would beat Germany to bronze.
If that earlier incident had given him nerves going into the final, where Great Britain faced a French team that was led off by world individual sprint champion Gregory Bauge, Hindes certainly didn't show them, again storming round in a little under 17.3 seconds for the opening lap.
Kenny stretched the lead, before Hoy took over to seal a resounding win for the home team, cheered on, as British riders had been all night, by a vociferous crowd - with a capacity of 6,000 and British medal chances in all ten events, this is one venue where it is pretty much guaranteed you won't see an empty seat.
Great Britain’s men’s sprinters had been relegated in April’s world championships for an illegal changeover similar to the one that cost Varnish and Pendleton the chance to race for gold tonight, and Kenny told the BBC afterwards: “It’s something we really thought about in training after the world championships went disastrously wrong so it was something we wanted to make sure we got absolutely spot-on.
“It was devastating to see it happen to the girls as well, particularly after that we kept everything really tight, we went through the motions. Unbelievable.”
Hoy, brushing away tears as the national anthem was played, said after stepping off the podium: “It’s quite overwhelming. We knew it was possible, this hasn’t come out of the blue, we knew if we put it together in the best possible race, all three of us together on the day, this was possible.
“But it’s easier said than done. Usually it’s one of the three of us on a really good day, the other two are okay. But we just timed it to taper perfectly, we had an excellent training camp at Newport, we had full support behind us from the team, and we nailed it.
“But the real question for me personally was the three rides so close together, that last ride there I dug deeper than I’ve ever done before, I knew the importance of what it was, I didn’t want to let the boys down, they’ve been riding so well today, and it’s just immense pride to be able to do it here in the UK in front of this crowd who have been phenomenal.
“You can’t overstate what this means to us in front of a home crowd. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and Shane [Sutton] said to me after Bradley’s time trial yesterday, ‘This is your chance, you’re never going to get this again. Go out there and enjoy it,’ and we enjoyed it, and we gave it our all, and it worked out.”
Kenny will begin his quest to succeed Hoy as Olympic individual sprint champion on Saturday morning - the finals are on Monday evening - while Hoy's defence of his keirin title, and potentially the sixth gold medal of his career, takes place on Tuesday.
Men's Team Pursuit
The Great Britain quartet of Geraint Thomas, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh - Andy Tennant sitting out qualification - got their defence of the team pursuit Olympic title won in Beijing to a cracking start, shattering the world best time they had set when taking the world championship in Melbourne in April by nearly eight tenths of a second, stopping the clock at 3:52.499.
Australia, the last team out on the track, qualified second fastest in 3:55.694 but suffered a scare when Glenn O'Shea was dropped just after the halfway point, meaning that Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis and Michael Hepburn had to dig in hard to ensure they got through without further mishap.
New Zealand, Denmark, Russia, Spain, Colombia and The Netherlands complete the eight team line-up for tomorrow afternoon's First Round, qualifying in that order.
More to follow