It was British night at the track, and it seems there will be more to come.
Team GB topped both of Thursday’s events. First it rode a cohesive, controlled, and above all fast women’s team pursuit to set a new world record in the discipline, then its men’s sprint trio routed New Zealand to take home track racing’s first gold medal of these Rio Olympic Games.
Women’s pursuit heats up
Great Britain’s Katie Archibald, Laura Trott, Elinor Barker, and Joanna Rowsell-Shand teamed up to beat the world record mark set by Australia in February 2015, clocking a 4:13.260. Minutes later, the United States stepped up for their own ride with the pressure of chasing a new world record.
The U.S. squad of Sarah Hammer, Kelly Catlin, Chloe Dygert and Jennifer Valente started fast, more than a second faster than Great Britain after the first kilometer, but were slowly wound back by a GB team that finished fast. In the end, the U.S. women were slightly off the pace and slotted into second place, 1.026 seconds off Great Britain’s pace. The reigning world champions expect to knock some time off their qualifying effort.
“That’s what we expected,” Hammer said of the British world record. “It’s going to get even faster.”
“It was definitely brutal, but it was fun,” said Dygert, the team’s 19-year-old double junior world road champion. “We’ll see what we have in the tank for Saturday.”
Times generally vary 2-3 seconds from qualifying to the first round to the finals, so team pursuit gold is still very much up for grabs.
The fight between the U.S. and Great Britain was tight, with just over a second between them, with a large gulf back to the Australians in third. The Aussies finished in 4:19.059, 5.799 seconds off GB. In fourth was Canada, a further half second behind.
The women’s team pursuit heads into its first round on Saturday. Great Britain will face Canada, the U.S. will face Australia, New Zealand will face Poland, and China will face Italy.
The winner of the GB vs. Canada matchup will face the winner of the U.S vs. Australia matchup in the gold medal round. Times for the remaining teams are ranked, and fastest two will fight for bronze.
Bradley Wiggins took a massive pull in three quarters of the way through of his team’s 4k pursuit then swung off, setting his three teammates free. Great Britain rode a dominant pursuit, less than one second off their own world record, and finished the qualifying rounds a comfortable first. Despite the fast time, the quartet never looked like they were truly pushing.
GB finished 3.453 seconds faster than Denmark and 3.633 ahead of the Australians.
Men’s first round action begins Friday. GB will face New Zealand and Denmark will face Australia.
The Team GB squad of Callum Skinner, Jason Kenny, and Philip Hindes set a new Olympic record in the qualification rounds of the men’s team sprint, clocking 42.562 seconds, then turned around and bettered themselves with a 42.440 to take gold against New Zealand in the final.
New Zealand started faster in both of its rounds, but the impressive closing speed of Skinner sealed the deal for GB.
Skinner is the replacement for Chris Hoy, who led the Great Britain’s team sprint to a gold medal at the London games. Hoy’s shoes couldn’t have been bigger, but Skinner filled them.
“What a poetic way to do it,” Hoy said the BBC. “Callum Skinner had all that pressure, he’s the one who had to improve and he delivered a gold medal.”
The ride showed that Kenny has found his top form and sets him up as a favorite for the upcoming Kierin races. It was his fourth gold medal.
“They’re all special,” he said. “But the team event is always the best, no doubt about it. You get to win
it with your mates.”
France beat Australia in the bronze medal round, riding a 43.143.