Track cycling at Tokyo 2020 has started with great drama and world records, as Britain was informed that its dominance is at risk. None of their Rio gold medal-winning team chase quartets qualified faster Monday, and the men were lucky to remain in contention to defend their Olympic crown.
But it was an accident by Australian Alex Porter that left the small local crowd, a rarity at these Games, holding their collective breath. The 25-year-old’s handlebars came out clean after four laps, sending him flying onto the deck in a severe crash. Thirty minutes later, his team had regrouped and were back in action, finishing fifth and a second off Britain’s hopes of winning the gold medal.
“I suppose sport is entertainment, right?” Said Simon Jones, Australia’s head coach. “Hopefully it was entertaining.”
A rule designed not to punish qualifying mishaps meant Australia was allowed a second attempt after Porter had approved concussion protocols. “When you land flat on your face at 40 mph, and you have half an hour to do it again, it’s absolutely incredible,” said Jones, a former British Cycling and Ineos Grenadiers coach. Talk about the Australian fighting spirit when getting up. We did pretty well, considering we collided at a very fast pace. “
Porter will receive medical attention before Australia faces Switzerland in the next round on Tuesday. The 2019 world champions can no longer qualify for the gold medal race, the best they can achieve now is bronze.
“The doctor checked it out,” Jones said. We have no immediate concern, it slid over her face. It is not as pretty as before, but it only had a little skin on the right arm. He’s very, very lucky. “
Despite almost a year and a half without international track cycling, the first day at the Izu Velodrome was expected to be fast. In the third race of the women’s team pursuit classification, Germany broke the world record set by Great Britain in Rio 2016 by four seconds, finishing in 4min 07.307sec. Great Britain ranked second-fastest, in a time that improved its world record, but well below the German pace.
“We knew the world record was going to be broken and we expected it to be the Australians or the Americans,” said Britain’s Elinor Barker. “It was almost strangely comforting that it happened when we weren’t looking.”
The British team, led by four-time Olympic champion Laura Kenny, will compete against the United States on Tuesday. If they can improve on the Americans, a gold medal showdown with the Germans or Italy awaits them later in the day. The remaining teams will race through the fastest times to advance to the bronze medal race; the women of Australia, who were unexpectedly slow, await redemption.
Britain’s men face a battle to retain the team pursuit gold medal, a crown they have held since the 2008 Olympics. Denmark, which set a world record at the World Track Championships in Berlin last year, it was again the team to beat, setting an Olympic record five seconds above the mark set by Great Britain in Rio. Fourth, Great Britain faced eager wait to see if Australia would ride again. The Australians spent most of their second attempt head-to-head with Great Britain’s time, but eventually faded to leave the British as the slowest team still in contention for the gold medal.
Great Britain, who raced Ed Clancy, Ethan Hayter, Ethan Vernon and Oliver Wood on Monday, will meet Denmark on Tuesday afternoon, competing for a place in the final on Wednesday. “We had fully prepared ourselves for everyone, maybe four or five teams, to break the world record,” said Clancy, who won team gold in Beijing, London and Rio. “If anything, I’m surprised more teams weren’t faster, including us.”
Clancy and his team set the Danish world record for the first 14 laps, before taking off slightly in the last 500 meters. “We train for these things, we practice them, but it’s a bit like a house of cards: as soon as one thing collapses, everything collapses,” he said. “We stuck together there.”
In the first medal race of the competition, China’s Zhong Tianshi successfully defended her team sprint title with her new teammate Bao Shanju. The pair broke the world record on their qualifying lap and then beat Germany’s Emma Hinze and Lea Sophie Friedrich. The Russian Olympic Committee won the bronze medal.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism