A family involved in the horrifying mass crash during one of the track events at the Commonwealth Games, which saw Olympic champion Matt Walls hospitalised after flying over the barriers and into the crowd, say the incident was almost a “complete catastrophe” that could have “seriously injured or killed” their children.
The devastating crash took place on Sunday during the final lap of the qualification heat for the scratch race, bringing eight riders down and catapulting Walls over the wall and into the front two rows of the stands, where Hugh Colvin was sitting with two of his children, aged five and seven, and some family friends.
“It all happened so incredibly quickly at the speed the cyclists were going,” Colvin told the BBC.
“You can see the trajectory of the bike, it came through, grazed my daughter's shoulder, and in one of the photos you can see we are obviously underneath the wheel.
“I was facing the other way because I’d turned my head, but looking back at the photos it must have been within centimetres, millimetres, of our heads and obviously close enough to graze my daughter.”
Team England rider Walls was treated for over 40 minutes inside the Lee Valley VeloPark before being taken to hospital, where it was confirmed that he had suffered no serious injuries. Racing was abandoned for the morning session while the 24-year-old received treatment, but resumed in the afternoon as scheduled.
The Isle of Man’s Matt Bostock, who was carried away on a stretcher, and Canada’s Derek Gee were also treated in hospital for minor injuries, with Bostock still aiming to take part in Sunday’s road race.
While the Games’ organisers initially stated that the two injured spectators – including the Colvins’ seven-year-old daughter – did not require hospital treatment, Hugh’s wife Laura told the BBC that a family friend, who was sitting beside the Colvins in the front row, is currently awaiting surgery for a serious arm injury which left him covered in blood.
“He suffered a laceration to the bone which the hospital has described as being like a machete injury,” said Mrs Colvin.
“It’s been really difficult for him, he’s still waiting for surgery. In addition to the soft tissue and muscle injury he’s got a partially severed tendon in his arm, so it is the start of a long road to recovery for him.”
The Colvins, however, believed the consequences of the crash could have been much worse. Hugh noted that Walls’ bike landed in the two seats where his five-year-old son and nephew had been previously sitting, before they moved to the row behind to get a better view of the racing.
“What has been quite hard for us to get our head around is being able to see from the photographs that were taken of the incident exactly how close this came to being a complete catastrophe,” Laura said.
“And how close our two younger children came to being seriously injured or killed. And that has been the main thing we've had to reflect on over the last few days.”
Bora-Hansgrohe pro Walls video-called the Colvins’ daughter the day after the crash on Monday, which the family say was a “massive step forward” in helping her come to terms with the incident.
The Colvins hope that the incident will prove the catalyst for a review of velodrome safety, in order to ensure that “no family is ever going to find themselves in our situation”.
Mrs Colvin, who claimed she was unaware of previous instances where track riders have ended up in the crowd, said: “If we had known for a moment that there was a risk that a bike with an adult male going at that speed could come into contact with my seven-year-old daughter, my family would never have been there.”
Shaun Dawson, the chief executive of Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, has noted that the venue complies with the UCI’s regulations and that an incident similar to Sunday’s horror crash has never happened before.
“We appreciate that this was a shocking experience for those involved and we offer our heartfelt best wishes to all those involved,” he said.
However, many in the cycling world have called on the sport’s governing body to introduce improved safety measures in velodromes to prevent a repeat of Sunday’s horror crash.
Following his release from hospital, Bostock told the BBC: “There has to be something done because it’s going down as a freak accident, but it has happened before.
“I don't know how many freak accidents become a normal accident. I dread to think if it had been worse. It should be a proactive decision to try and make it safer before it's a terrible accident.”
Six-time Olympic champion Chris Hoy argued that the dramatic incident was “the direct result of not having a barrier at the top of the fencing”.
He said: “I think it’s preventable if they put a Perspex screen to protect the crowd. I’ve seen a shot of it and it was horrendous to watch.
“Something has to be done before something genuinely serious happens.”
Meanwhile, Laura Kenny claimed that the crash, which she described as “horrendous”, almost put her off taking part in the women’s points race.
“It’s the third time now I’ve been in a velodrome and witnessed someone go over the top,” Britain’s most successful female Olympian said.
“Matt was laughing and making jokes with the paramedics which is brilliant to hear but if he’d [not gone over] he would have done less damage and certainly done less damage to the little girl.”
She added: “I think the crashes are getting worse and it’s because the speeds are getting higher, the positions are getting more extreme. Some of the pursuit positions people are getting in, you see people crashing into the back of people.
“At some point the UCI are going to have to put a cap on these positions. Maybe there should be screens because Matt should not have been able to go over the top and into the crowd – that’s pretty damn dangerous.”
Sunday’s crash on the track in London has kicked off a week of scrutiny for the UCI’s safety protocols.
Yesterday, two serious mass crashes during bunch sprints at the Vuelta a Burgos and the Tour of Poland prompted many pundits and fans to call into question the effectiveness of the governing body’s safety guidelines.
The UCI’s ‘Specifications for Organisers’ was published in 2021 in the wake of Fabio Jakobsen’s horrific, life-threatening crash at the previous year’s Tour of Poland, which saw him fly through shoddy barriers during a sprint on a notorious, downhill finishing straight in Katowice.
The new rules state that finishing straights must be sufficiently long and wide to ensure safety for the riders, with no obstacles, traffic islands and speed bumps in the final kilometre, while containing safe barrier designs.
However, just days after Irish sprinter Sam Bennett was fortunate to dodge some questionably placed barriers which jutted out onto the course during the opening stage of the Tour of Poland, yesterday’s stage featured a massive pile-up on a corner with 800 metres to go, as the road drastically narrowed (a feature of the route which was not included in the road book provided by the organisers).
— Alex Rasmussen (@alexfalkeman) August 3, 2022
At the Vuelta a Burgos, Jumbo-Visma’s David Dekker lost control of his bike on a speed bump, positioned in the final 600 metres, sparking a shocking mass crash which saw a number of riders fly through the metal barriers.
— Jakub Jarosz (@jakjarosz) August 3, 2022
GCN commentator and former British champion Brian Smith pointed out that the speed bump, while noted by the race organisers in their list of ‘danger points’ along the course, “contravenes the UCI regulations” and argued that cycling’s governing body waits for safety-related incidents to occur before dealing with them (the same final kilometre was used for a stage of the Vuelta a Burgos in 2020 and passed without incident).
“Well that contravenes the UCI regulations, so who signs these things off?” Smith asked in commentary.
“It's the same with what has happened in Poland, this finish could have been fine and been used in years to come, but we had an incident.
“It feels as though the UCI waits for an incident, then reacts to it and that shouldn't be the case.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.