Tears of joy spilled across Sarah Hammer’s face as she stood with her teammates atop the podium, arms held high, rainbows across their chests, and gold medals hanging around their necks. After years as the team’s unwavering heart, Hammer had finally led her unlikely band to a team pursuit world championship.
The U.S women’s team pursuit took its first-ever world title on Friday, riding a 4:16.802 to best Canada in the gold medal round. It was the first world title for any American team pursuit squad, male or female, and came after the team set two new American records on their way to the final. They did it with the help of a 18-year-old phenom, who had raced in only one previous elite-level track event.
“I’ve been waiting my whole career to get a world championship with a team,” said Hammer, 32, who has won five individual pursuit and two omnium titles at previous championships and has been a longtime stalward of the U.S. women’s program. “For some of the girls, it’s the start of their careers but it’s the winding down of mine. It’s the first medal ever for the USA in the men’s or women’s team pursuit so it’s a very special night for us.
“You don’t do what we did tonight without a special group. We are a team in the whole sense of the word, and I think we showed that in all three of our rides.”
Hammer, Jennifer Valente, Kelly Catlin, and reigning junior world road race champion Chloe Dygert took just under three seconds out of the Canadian squad of Jasmin Glaesser, Alison Beveridge, Kristi Lay, and Georgia Simmerling, mostly in the second half of the 4,000 meter race.
Dygert, who is just 19, has now won a rainbow stripes in all three of the world championship events she’s entered. She took both the time trial and road race in Richmond last fall.
The two teams were neck-and-neck at the half way point, when the United States dropped from four riders to three. A final lap surge popped another off the back, dangling just two bike lengths behind. But the team’s lead by then was insurmountable, and its margin of victory was a comfortable one in the end.
Great Britain, long a powerhouse of international track racing, could manage only third place after the four-woman team fell apart in a previous round. Their time against New Zealand in the bronze final was 4:16.540.
Looking ahead to the Rio Olympics, the American women look well situated to compete for gold, but will see stiff competition from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, suggesting a title battle.
“This is far beyond what our goal was, in our one-step-at-a-time process to the Olympics,” said Jennifer Valente. “But it’s definitely a confidence booster. Rio is the goal and nothing has changed in that respect.”