By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
As his mentor and one-time gold medalist Chris Boardman looked on from inside the velodrome at the Olympics in Athens, Bradley Wiggins scored the second gold medal in two days for the team from Britain, winning the individual pursuit. Wiggins beat back the challenge of Aussie Brad McGee in the final, while Spain’s Sergi Escobar topped the U.K.’s Rob Hayles in the bronze-medal round.
Wiggins said his Olympic dream first began while watching Boardman win gold at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Since then the two have become good friends, as Boardman helped guide his protégé to Saturday’s golden moment. In the finals Wiggins burst away in the first lap, and never trailed McGee. At the end it was a blowout, with Wiggins coming home in 4:16.304, 4.132 ahead of McGee.
“[Boardman] changed everything, my training my mental approach,” said Wiggins. “I’ve really been able to step it up another level this year. It’s taken a while, but I think I have the pursuit right at the moment.”
Afterwards McGee joked that he’d been caught with his pants down.
“I thought I would be able to do it tonight,” McGee said. “But he showed everyone that he had all the strength, mentally and physically.”
Indeed, Wiggins had sent a message the day before at the velodrome, setting the Olympic record of 4:15.165 in the qualifying round. Chris Hoy won the 1km time trial that night, giving the Brits their first gold.
Wiggins said the plan that got him here first came to fruition at a meeting in 2002 where he, Boardman and some of the other big players in the U.K. track game broke down each component of what it was going to take for Wiggins to beat McGee and win gold.
“From there forward I raced, trained and lived for this moment,” Wiggins said. “Right now I could be happy if I never raced again.”
Boardman, who still holds the world record in the event, watched the race from the infield, a beaming smile striped across his face.
“I was a little concerned with his start just because of the size of the occasion,” he said. “After that he was in control. McGee had been the supreme guy in this event, but he was rocking and rolling a little bit tonight. I thought it would have been closer.”
Germans sprint to gold
In the night’s other feature event, the German team of Jens Fiedler, Stefan Nimke and Rene Wolff held off a surprisingly strong Japanese squad to win the team sprint. Defending Olympic champions France out-dueled Australia in the battle for bronze.
The team sprint also marked the U.S. team’s first crack on the track, but it was a short-lived experience, as Adam Duvendeck, Giddeon Massie and Christian Stahl finished 11th in the 12-team field where only the first eight teams moved into the next round. The team remained philosophical afterwards, taking solace in the fact that their time of 45.742 was a personal best.
“To take seven-tenths off our best time in a 45-second event, that’s huge,” said Stahl, who at 21 has lots of racing left. “Our goal was to get here and we did that. Now we can really start looking forward to 2008.”
The American team, one of the youngest in the field with an average age of 21.7, had the unenviable task of riding against Greece in the first round. The Greeks weren’t a serious threat to medal, either, but definitely had the bulk of support from the sold-out velodrome crowd.
At the top of the standings after the opening round was defending Olympic champion France. Germany, Japan, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Greece also advanced.
The Brits would pay for the seventh place in the opener. And though they made a roster change, substituting Jason Queally for Craig Maclean, they couldn’t get past Germany despite posting the round’s second-best time. That left the finals to Germany and Japan for gold, and France and Australia for bronze.
The Germans came out behind, trailing at the end of the first lap, but with Fiedler done, Nimke and Wolff blasted through the final two laps, taking the win going away.
“This will probably be my last race,” said Fiedler, who has competed in four Olympics, winning three gold medals. “Before this race I dreamed of having my son ride on my handlebars after victory. Tonight it happened.”
Ulmer sets world mark in pursuit qualifying
Kiwi Sarah Ulmer stamped herself as the woman to beat in the individual pursuit, setting a world record in the qualifying round. It was the second world mark set on the Athens track in two days, following Aussie Anna Meares’s gold-medal ride in Friday’s 500-meter time trial.
The world mark in the pursuit actually fell twice on the night, first to Australia’s Katie Mactier and then to Ulmer, who covered the 3000 meters in 3:26.400. Ulmer and Mactier also posted the two top times in the first round, meaning they’ll square off in the gold-medal finals on Sunday.
This was the second time Ulmer bested the world mark. She knocked Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel out of the record books at this year’s world championships in Melbourne, Australia, in the qualifying round, and then beat Mactier in the final to take the rainbow jersey.
Zijlaard-Van Moorsel had the third fastest time in the first round, meaning there will be no back-to-back track gold for the Dutchwoman, who did defend her Olympic road time trial title on Wednesday.
American Erin Mirabella finished 10th in the individual-pursuit qualifying, putting a quick end to her night. She’ll get a chance for redemption in Wednesday’s points race. Mirabella’s time of 3:36.992 was 1.815 seconds slower than Russia’s Olga Slyusareva, the eighth and final rider to advance.
“You’d like to get into the next round, but this was a personal best for me, so I’ve got to be happy,” Mirabella said. “I really didn’t have a chance to peak for the pursuit because of all the work I had to do to qualify. But I still felt like I had a chance to do a good race. The first half felt effortless, but at about lap three I was dying.”