After four-time Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy became the second Briton in as many days to underline his credentials as one of Britain’s greatest ever Olympians, but as Hoy’s sprint team and the German pair of Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel took the first two of 10 track cycling golds there was plenty of controversy at the London Velodrome.
Since the Beijing Olympics, changes to the rules means there is now gender parity across the Olympic track disciplines, with the men and women racing the same five events.
For Olympic sprint champion Victoria Pendleton, who was aiming for three gold medals in the sprint, team sprint and keirin in what are her final Games, the changes were welcome, but on the first night, she and partner Jessica Varnish were the first to fall foul of rules governing changeovers in the team event.
The pair had set a new world record in qualifying, which was later eclipsed by China’s Guo Shuang and Gong Jinjie, only for disaster to strike in the first round.
After Varnish had sped her way round her lap of the track in a super-fast time, she left the changeover zone too early as Pendleton prepared to take over to complete the two-lap event.
Despite pleas by British cycling team boss Dave Brailsford, the pair were relegated for the infringement, effectively ending Varnish’s Olympics and Pendleton’s hopes of three golds.
“It’s just one of those things that happened. We were probably just a bit too eager and excited for a ride,” a distraught Pendleton said. “Now and again rubbish things happen and this is one of those. The only positives I can take is I know I’m in good form.”
Guo and Gong, who improved the British pair’s world record twice, in qualifying (32.447 seconds) and in the first round (32.442 seconds), went on to beat Germany in the gold medal match to hand China their first ever Olympic cycling gold.
However, it took only a few minutes for tears to flow again as the judges told Germany they would be given the gold because of an even slighter infringement in the same changeover zone.
With Guo set to make amends for her Beijing bronze medal in the demanding match sprint tournament in the coming days, it was left to Gong to face the media as her Olympics came to a bitter end.
She said the decision had been harsh.
“The rules are not really specified. They don’t say after how many seconds or how many meters we should or shouldn’t change line,” said the Chinese, who like Varnish will compete in no other events. “The coach asked for an explanation, but the referee said: ‘We have no time, we have the ceremony now.’ Today we’ve got silver medal, it’s regretful, things were changed in a very short time, but it’s sport and we have to accept it.”
Hoy played down his feat of equaling Sir Steve Redgrave’s British record haul of five Olympic gold medals after finishing his three-man team’s three-lap effort to defend their title in a new world record of 42.600 seconds.
“It’s amazing, but it’s just a number really. I still don’t think that anybody can better Steve’s record in terms of what he’s really achieved,” Hoy said.
However, Britain’s victory, for some, could be soured by the gamesmanship used by teammate Philip Hindes in the first round, which gives access to the gold medal match.
After a bad start, and faced with losing just a crucial fraction of a second, the 19-year-old German-born Briton deliberately crashed in order to be allowed a restart, in accordance with the rules.