So what comes after a knighthood? Great Britain’s perfect start to the Olympic track cycling continued as Sir Bradley Wiggins and his team-mates Ed Clancy, Owain Doull and Steven Burke won the men’s team pursuit in thrilling style and a world‑record time.
They beat Australia in the showdown, reversing the outcome of the corresponding final at the world championships in March. After that reverse, Wiggins advised anyone who would listen to “put your house” on a British win here. They were as good as his word, posting a time of 3min 50.265sec as they came from behind after 3,500m of the 4,000m trip.
Even in defeat Wiggins would have become the most decorated Olympian in British history, assured as he was of a medal whatever the outcome. But having stated he had no interest in winning silver or bronze it would have been decidedly anti-climactic if he had ascended to his new exalted status from anything other than the podium’s top step.
In a career incorporating five Olympic Games, not to mention assorted outdoor distractions, this was his fifth gold and takes his overall medal tally to eight.
“We knew it was close, so when we crossed the line it was more relief than anything,” Wiggins said. “It was an incredible final to be in but I never want to be in a final like that again because it was horrible really.”
Great Britain did it the hard way. Australia led from the gun, with Alexander Edmondson, Jack Bobridge, Michael Hepburn and Sam Welsford opening a gap of more than half a second by halfway, but with eight laps of the Siberian pine to negotiate the eventual winners slowly began to rein them in.
A couple of laps later, Bobridge took a “death pull” for Australia and expended such effort he left his team with only the three men required to post a time. It was a tactic that did not pay off, as the British closed the gap to less than one-hundredth of a second at 3,000m and from then the outcome was never in doubt.
“It was just about keeping your bottle, it wasn’t easy,” Clancy said. “We could sense by the crowd we weren’t ahead. When we crossed that line a second ahead, I think it was the happiest moment in my life.”
Asked about his short- and long-term plans, Wiggins was in typically forthright mood. “It’s over in a flash and we’ll all be hungover tomorrow,” he said. “That wasn’t my last race, but it was my last Olympic Games. My kids have never known anything other than me being an Olympic athlete and they need me now.”
Fresh from winning gold in the men’s team sprint the previous day, both Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner followed up with fine performances in qualifying for the individual event.
Skinner scorched up the track to set a Olympic record of 9.703sec in his 200m time trial, beaten by Kenny’s 9.551 soon after. Kenny went on to ease past Germany’s Maximilian Levy in the last 16. Skinner subsequently led from the front to advance to the quarter-finals, shutting the door on Australia’s Patrick Constable after a two-lap game of cat and mouse. Both men will resume their respective assaults on the competition on Saturday.
In the day’s other final, China won the women’s team sprint, beating Russia to secure gold while Germany bagged bronze in a contest where Great Britain were notable absentees. It was the failure of Jess Varnish and Katy Marchant to qualifythat led to the former being dropped from the Team GB “podium programme” and the subsequent row that resulted in the resignation of the team technical director, Shane Sutton, amid allegations of discrimination and bullying, which he strenuously denies.
The two-times Olympic gold medallist Victoria Pendleton said it was “ridiculous” Great Britain were not in the event, stating there is “no way” they are not among the five fastest teams in the world.
It seemed something of a rum do that while two of Team GB’s fastest women, Marchant and Becky James, were relaxing before the individual competition on Sunday, the woman whose speed neither has yet to match was actually in the velodrome providing informative if slightly wistful co-commentary for the BBC.