Matt Walls has won Team GB’s first track cycling gold medal in Tokyo, coming into the final event, the points race, with a four-point lead and taking control of the last race early on to become Olympic champion. Campbell Stewart of New Zealand put in a late charge to pick up a lap and pip defending champion Elia Viviani of Italy to the silver medal.
The 23-year-old from Oldham won the opening event, the scratch race, from world champion Benjamin Thomas of France, with Jan Willem van Schip of the Netherlands third, to pick up 40 points.
Making its third appearance at the Olympics, the omnium has this year been reduced from six events over two days to four in one session, with the timed events removed.
In the second event today, the tempo race, one point was on offer for the first rider across the line at the end of each of the 40 laps, with 20 more available for anyone lapping the field.
Walls picked up some early points by leading the bunch across the line three times but appeared to miss a strong breakaway move and faced losing ground to his rivals, but the Briton counter-attacked and caught the back of the field to pick up 20 points himself.
At the halfway point, van Schip was in the gold medal position, with Walls second and Thomas third – although all three were tied on 76 points.
Viviani had a lacklustre start to his title defence, finishing thirteenth in the scratch race and eighth in the tempo race, but was the last man standing in the elimination race, winning the final sprint from Walls, who moved four points ahead of van Schip at the top of the standings ahead of the final event, the points race.
While points counting for the overall standings in the first three events are based on the finishing positions in each of those, in the last race it is the points accumulated in that event that go towards the total – meaning that anyone gaining 20 points for gaining a lap could move right back into contention.
Early on, Walls caught the bunch napping and got clear, the Team GB rider, joined by the USA’s Gavin Hoover, taking 20 points as he caught the group several laps later and, seconds after, five sprint points to extend his lead to 29 points.
That margin put Walls firmly in control of the race, and despite Viviani moving into silver medal position by picking up a lap and two sprints for a total of 30 points.
The British rider countered by winning the sprint with 40 laps remaining to pick up another 5 points himself, with a tight battle behind for silver and bronze between Viviani, van Schip, Thomas and Stewart, playing to his advantage as he kept his cool and rode to the Olympic title.
It’s Team GB’s fourth gold medal in cycling at Tokyo, with Walls joining Tom Pidcock who dominated the mountain biking cross-country race, Beth Shriever who triumphed in the BMX race and Charlotte Worthington, who won the new event of BMX freestyle.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.