- Finishes first in individual pursuit to take overall lead at halfway
- Becky James and Katy Marchant on target for all-British women’s
Rio OLympics: Laura Trott began the defence of her omnium title in splendid style and leads the multi-discipline event at the halfway point. The women’s equivalent of the bedlam-on-bikes in which Mark Cavendish won silver, this often frantic, whirring cavalcade of colour is a consistent crowd-pleaser. What is more, despite its renown as something of a lottery, it appears to have met its match in a 24-year-old athlete who rarely finishes out of the medals in cycling’s answer to the heptathlon.
The opening 10km scratch race, a straight shoot-out between the 18 contestants, was won by the Belarusian rider Tatsiana Sharakova, who attacked with 12 laps to go and managed to sustain a potentially kamikaze effort and take an entire lap out of a field that did not seem overly fussed about reeling her in. Her place at the top of the official standings after one event would not last long.
In the subsequent three kilometre individual pursuit, Trott clocked 2min 25.054sec to finish first and ascend to the top of the overall leaderboard with four disciplines left. Starting opposite Sharakova, from whom she was separated by half a track, Trott caught and passed her rival at the 2,000m mark and could have beaten her pulling a cart full of straw bales.
Seeking her second gold of these Games, she currently leads Jolien D’Hoore from the Netherlands and America’s Sarah Hammer at the halfway point after making it consecutive triumphs in her professional party piece: the elimination race.
Formerly known as Devil Take The Hindmost (and a loud boo and hiss to whoever decided to rename it), it is one of the more popular velodrome wheezes, with riders tasked with rumbling repeatedly around the track while trying to ensure they do not finish last in the sprint for the line that marks the end of every second lap. Those who fail are eliminated one by one until only two riders are left to fight it out for maximum points. It is a discipline which Trott has turned into to an art form and her freakishly acute sense of positioning, apparently supernatural awareness of what is going on behind her and piston-like legs in a sprint ensured she took maximum points.
Along with Trott’s omnium and the men’s keirin, featuring her other half Jason Kenny, the women’s sprint is one of three events that will conclude in Tuesday’s final day of hot, sweaty and thoroughly enjoyable velodrome action. Following a slow first day, crowds have been good and the atmosphere raucous, the participation of Brazil’s Gideoni Monteiro in the men’s omnium helping to ensure a brisk trade.
In the women’s sprint Becky James and Katy Marchant remain on course to tee up an all-British final, mirroring the men’s event in which Jason Kenny beat Callum Skinner. Having broken Victoria Pendleton’s Olympic record with a flying 200m of 10.721 in qualifying, James’s progress into the final four has been nailbiting, to say the least. Leaving it late before swooping to conquer on the line in her opener, she had only 37 hundredths of a second to spare over France’s Virginie Cueff in the next as she qualified for Tuesday’s quarter-final against China’s Zhong Tianshi.
James’s training partner Marchant qualified for the final eight by a comparative gulf of 0.343sec, chasing down Germany’s Miriam Welte who had tried to steal a march with an early burst. A former heptathlete, Marchant will face Lithuania’s Simona Krupeckaite in the sharp end of a competition that from this point on will be settled by best-of-three matches.
The defending champion, Anna Meares, had earlier failed to make the final eight after defeat by China’s Wai Sze Lee. The Australian was forced into the unfamiliar position of having to slum it in two repechage events as she attempted to get her assault on the medals quite literally back on track. It was not to be, with James’s next opponent Zhong proving too good for her and nabbing the remaining spot.
A track legend, Meares ended up finishing 10th overall before sharing a tearful moment with her old rival Pendleton but she still leaves Rio with a bronze from the keirin, her sixth Olympic medal. The 32-year-old has refused to comment on her future plans but has hinted she may keep going until Tokyo 2020. The sight of her weeping in the pit suggests she might now think they could be a Games too far.