Events

Jason Kenny, Gregory Bauge advance toward possible rematch of worlds race

Njisane Phillip of Trinidad and Tobago and Australian Shane Perkins also make the semifinals at the London Games

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LONDON (VN) — And then there were four.

After several rounds of qualifying and quarterfinals, the men’s Olympic sprint final is taking shape, with four riders set to square off Monday for the title of “fastest man on two wheels” awarded to the winner.

In the first heat of the men’s sprint semifinal, Great Britain’s Jason Kenny — who set an Olympic record for the flying 200 meters Saturday morning in qualifying with a 9.713 — will face Njisane Phillip of Trinidad and Tobago.

In the second heat, France’s Grégory Baugé, the world champion, will face Australian Shane Perkins.

The two winners will advance to the gold/silver final, while the two losers will square off for the bronze.

The three-lap, 750-meter sprint is a best-of-three format. However, none went to the wire Sunday.

In quarterfinals Sunday, Kenny beat Malaysia’s erratic sprinter Azizulhasni “Pocket Rocket” Awang in two straight heats to move into the semifinals.

Robert Forstemann’s massive thighs gave him no help at all against Baugé. Seemingly with ease, the world champion beat the German in two straight heats.

“It was a tactical race. I knew him very well. I faced him last year at the world championships. It wasn’t easy to manage, but I think I did it well,” Baugé said.

In the third of four quarterfinals, the more experienced Perkins defeated American sprinter Jimmy Watkins, a full-time firefighter from Kern County, California, in two straight sprints.

“I did my best. I didn’t do anything wrong, he just outclassed me,” Watkins said. “I don’t feel bad about it.”

In the fourth and final heat of the quarterfinals, Phillip took a pair of tightly contested, emphatic victories against Denis Dmitriev (Russia).

“I really love the sport. I really want to be good. I want to be recognized by the Australians and British fans,” Phillip said. “Trinidad and Tobago is such a small island and I feel like a VIP. Getting this love from this crowd at the Olympics is just a wonderful feeling.”

Watkins faced Dmitriev, Forstemann and Awang in the race for fifth through eighth places. The American was able to out-kick all but Dmitriev to earn sixth place in his first appearance at an Olympics.

“I was super-motivated to do something in my last chance and to come out second in that and sixth overall, I’m happy with that,” said Watkins.

Watkins’ sixth is the best American Olympic result in the men’s sprint since Marty Nothstein’s gold in the 2000 Games in Sydney.

Both Kenny and Baugé are favored to win their semifinals, setting up a battle royal between the French world champion and Kenny, the rider who denied British teammate Chris Hoy a spot in the sprint.

The last time they met in a final, Baugé beat Kenny to clinch the world title in April.

“I am feeling good, I am ready for the semifinals. I am looking forward to tomorrow. I am a bit behind compared to (Kenny), as he has the public behind him, but we will see tomorrow,” Baugé said.

“I am satisfied. I did not lose too much energy. Tomorrow is the last day of the sprint and I will give it all I have.”