Chris Hoy shed tears of joy and Victoria Pendleton’s bittersweet sobs echoed around the London Velodrome as Britain ended their Olympic track cycling campaign with seven titles on a thrilling, highly emotional evening on Tuesday.
Hoy bagged his sixth Games gold with a comprehensive win in the keirin minutes after Pendleton ended her scintillating career with defeat against her archrival Anna Meares of Australia.
With six-time Olympic champion Hoy extremely unlikely to defend his titles in four years in Rio de Janeiro, the future of British cycling is in the safe hands of new sprint king Jason Kenny and Laura Trott, who at 20 claimed her second Games gold by winning the women’s omnium to add to her team pursuit title.
Trott and Hoy’s golds earned the host nation their sixth and seventh titles in London, matching their record medal haul from Beijing four years ago.
Hoy’s title triggered the biggest roar from a rapturous crowd, who for the first time let slip a few boos when Pendleton was relegated from her first leg against Meares.
Pendleton, who had also been relegated from the team sprint, had beaten Meares to the line by a clipped nail, but officials ruled she had left the sprinting lane, though it had first looked like she had been elbowed by the Australian.
“I won’t even bother to watch it again, I am starting a new life now,” Pendleton said.
In the second leg, Meares, a fine tactician, forced Pendleton into the lead with a now rarely seen standstill, before overcoming the Briton in the final banking, punching the air in delight before the finish line.
“Victoria is such a hard-fought opponent and she’s dominated the sport for so long,” Meares, often dubbed the villain in the long-standing rivalry between the two, told reporters after securing Australia’s only track gold in London. “It’s been such a difficult challenge and to be able to win the Olympic title, for me, it’s so special. I’ve tried so much and worked so hard for a long period of time, and I’ve asked a lot of people around me to do the same, so it feels like this is a just reward.”
Perhaps Pendleton felt the same, applauding Meares, before completing a farewell lap and bursting into tears after getting off her bike, abandoning her title and years of sacrifices.
Her face was covered in tears again on the podium, but those were tears of relief as they signaled the end of a career that she, deep inside, did not really want.
“I was crying and people said you must be so sad, but I am just so happy it is over, and it is over without a doubt,” the 31-year-old Pendleton told reporters. “It would be my worst nightmare right now to have to relive the last week of my life. Just hanging around waiting. The expectation of the team, it is too much.”
Watching her bid farewell to the crowd and pose for the cameras was the twinkling Trott, with Kenny the next big thing in British track cycling.
“She has had a massive influence on me, she has been my idol ever since I saw her in Beijing, well before that really,” said Trott, who won the omnium ahead of Sarah Hammer of the US by a single point thanks to a perfectly executed final time trial. “She is such an inspiration. All through when I was a junior and first-year senior, I just wanted to be like her and just achieve what she has achieved. She is a role model on and off the bike, I think you can’t ask for a better role model than Vicky.”