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Not even a crash could keep Jennifer Valente from capturing Olympic gold.
Valente, 27, earned the United States its only cycling gold medal of the 2021 Olympics on Sunday morning in Izu, Japan, battling through the four events of the Omnium to end up on top of final points standings. After taking an early lead, Valente suffered a crash midway through the Points Race — the final event of the Ominum. But the Californian remounted her bicycle, rejoined the race, and muscled her way to second in the final sprint to clinch the overall win.
After the scoreboard flashed the final score, Valente sat down on the track draped in an American flag and cried as photographers gathered around to document the moment.
“I think there were 100 different emotions running through me and the biggest thing is that none of them had set in yet,” Valente said about the moment. “I don’t know if they have still set in, or understanding what it means to be an Olympic champion. It’s been really emotional and it’s been a long five years, and I’m so happy with this result.”
Valente defeated home favorite Yumi Kajihara of Japan, with Dutch veteran Kirsten Wild of The Netherlands earning bronze after a late push in the Points Race.
It’s the United States’ first ever Olympic victory in the Omnium event by a man or a woman, and it marks the country’s first Olympic gold medal in track cycling since Marty Nothstein won the Sprint at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
Valente’s victory was the product of smart racing throughout the four-event Omnium, which is comprised of the Scratch Race, Tempo Race, Elimination Race, and Points Race.
“I was very aware of the points difference throughout the race,” Valente said. “I went out at the beginning of the Points Race trying to put a gap between us.”
Valente jumped to an early lead by winning the Scratch Race and earning the maximum 40 points, and her victory came after she narrowly avoided a dramatic crash that took down multiple riders.
Two crashes in the event eliminated nearly half of the riders from the final. The pileups took down multiple pre-race favorites, including Lotte Kopecky (Belgium), Laura Kenny (Great Britain), Clara Copponi (France), as well as multiple other riders.
The crash placed Valente in the driver’s seat for the rest of the event, and it also forced those riders taken down in the pileups to ride more aggressively. In the Tempo Race it was Kenny and Wild who rode aggressively, with the British rider taking the maximum 40 points. But Valente was a close third to earn 36 more points and pad her lead. In the Elimination Race Copponi charged hard to win the event, but Valente held tough, earning the fourth-most points to pad her lead even further.
Heading into the final event, the Points Race, Valente held a narrow lead on Kajihara with 110 points to 108 points. The final event of the Omium often reshuffles the lineup. as the points earned in the event count toward each rider’s final points in the Omium standings. The 80-lap race awards points every 10 laps, with double points available on the final sprint.
“Before the Points Race I went into it leading but pretty close on points, so I really just approached it like any other race,” Valente said. “Taking it one event at a time and one sprint at a time, and looking at it as an individual race and trying to put the idea of an Olympic medal on the back burner for the moment and just focusing on the race that was about to begin.”
Valente got to work early winning the first sprint, and after her early points she stayed in the field and marked Kajihara. Meanwhile, other riders took turns attacking out of the main bunch. Amalie Didericksen of Denmark attacked at the race’s halfway point to win the sprint at 60 laps, and Didericksen appeared poised to lap the field, but a surge in the main bunch brought her back after Wild bridged up to her.
Then, a four-rider attack with 40 laps to go also appeared destined to lap the field. And the move went just as Valente saw her biggest setback of the race. Valente was taken down in a crash involving a rider from Egypt with 30 laps to go. Per the Points Race rules, riders can rejoin the field after a lap, and Valente got back into the bunch.
She stayed near the end of the bunch from 20 until 10 laps to go, and then, with seven laps to go she made a move, surging to the front of the group. She marked moves by Wild and Kenney in the final few laps around the track. With no riders able to lap the field, Valente just needed to mark Kajihara in the final to win. And the Japanese rider then took a tumble after crossing wheels with Wild.
Valente patrolled the front in the final push to the line, surging to second in the final sprint behind Wild. After crossing the line she shook her head in disbelief — the points totals were added, and Valente was crowned the Olympic champion.
In the post-race press conference Valente credited her victory to her years of preparation with the U.S. women’s Team Pursuit squad in between the 2016 Olympics and the 2021 Games. During the COVID-19 lockdown the women lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado together and trained with each other nearly every day.
“Our Team Pursuit program was a big focus of the last couple of years, and the last year we had the Team Pursuit riders living and training in Colorado Springs, and I think that was a huge contributing factor,” she said. “To be around my teammates and pushing each other, every day, in different training sessions. Both this journey with my teammates and the staff… it was a joint effort.”
Valente hails from San Diego, California, and grew up racing at the San Diego velodrome as a teenager. She started in track cycling and only transitioned over to road cycling later in her career. After taking questions in Tokyo, Valente said the years of training sessions at the San Diego velodrome likely gave her the skills to survive the hectic track races with a sixth sense-like ability to avoid disaster.
“100 percent I think getting into mass-start races and bumping around with junior riders and elite riders from a young age contributes to my bike handling skills and awareness, and I think that kind of thing is hard to train specifically,” she said. “You have to learn it over time, so I think I’ve been working on that since I was very young. Those Tuesday nights went into building this result.”
Olympic Women’s Omnium
- Jennifer Valente, USA, 124 points
- Yumi Kajihara, Japan, 110
- Kirsten Wild, The Netherlands, 108
- Amalie Dideriksen, Denmark, 103
- Anita Yvonne Stenberg, Norway, 97
- Laura Kenny, Great Britain, 96
- Maria Martins, Portugal, 95
- Clara Copponi, France, 85
- Alison Beveridge, Canada, 78
- Holly Edmondston, New Zealand, 67
Kelsey Mitchell takes Canada’s first track gold since 2004
Canadian sprinter Kelsey Mitchell ended a 15-year gold drought for Canada in Olympic track cycling, winning the women’s Sprint event at the Izu Velodrome on the final day of the Olympic track program. Mitchell, 27, defeated Olga Starikova of Ukraine in two straight races to take the gold medal. It’s Canada’s second Olympic medal of the 2021 games.
“My dream was to go to the Olympics, and I think deep down my goal was to be an Olympic champion like anyone who comes here, and just to see it kind of come true is an incredible feeling,” Mitchell told reporters at the finish.
Mitchell’s biggest challenge came in the semifinals of the Sprint, where she squared off against reigning world champion Emma Hinze of Germany. After defeating Hinze in the first race of the best-of-three event, Mitchell lost to Hinze after the German made an early move to power to the line.
“I had raced a lot of my races from the back and coming around,” Mitchell said. “I knew I had a long sprint in me and just decided to leave it out there and see if I could come around, and I was able to.”
In the final event Mitchell and Hinze nearly came to a standstill, before Mitchell accelerated away to win the third set, advancing her to the finals.
Olympic Women’s Sprint
- Kelsey Mitchell, Canada
- Olena Starikova, Ukraine
- Wai Sze Lee, Hong Kong
- Emma Hinze, Germany
Jason Kenny attacks early to win Keirin gold
Jason Kenny’s long-range attack surprised the field in the Olympic men’s Keirin finals, and the British rider soared to his seventh Olympic gold medal and his third-consecutive Olympic win in the event. Kenny held off Mohd Azizulhasni Awang and Harrie Lavreysen of The Netherlands to win the event by .76 seconds — a sizable margin in an event often decided by hundredths of a second.
The other riders in the field never got the opportunity to sprint for the win, as Kenny bolted clear of the group just a few seconds after the motorized derny pulled away from the bunch. The Keirin starts with a flying start, and then riders battle each other over three laps to the finish. Kenny pulled clear of the group after Australian rider Matthew Glaetzer appeared to let a gap open up. With no rider surging ahead to close the gap Kenny sped clear, and then punched the afterburners to open up a sizable lead on the field.
As the field closed in it was too little, too late, and Kenny soared across the line.
“It is a bit of shock I think, I really wanted to cross the finish line,” Kenny said. “I was hoping to kind of get stuck in, and hopefully come away with some silverware. To win at the corner on my own like that is absolutely buzzing.”
Kenny’s medal is Team Great Britain’s eighth of the 2021 track cycling program, tying it with The Netherlands in the medal count.
Olympic Men’s Keirin
- Jason Kenny
- Mohd Azizulhasni Awang, Malasia
- Harrie Lavreysen, The Netherlands
- Jair Tjon En Fa, Suriname
- Matthew Glaetzer, Australia
- Maximilian Levy, Germany