By Dennis Passa, Associated Press
Nathan O’Neill and Oenone Wood led Australia to a gold and silver medals sweep of the cycling individual time trials on the oceanside road course Tuesday at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.
The seven-time Australian time trial champion, O’Neill finished the 40km course in 48 minutes, 37.29 seconds. Teammate Ben Day was second, 24.38 seconds behind, and New Zealander Gordon McCauley took the bronze.
Wood covered the 29km out-and-back course in 37 minutes, 40.87 seconds, 15.2 seconds clear of Kathryn Watt, who won the 1992 Olympic road race for Australia. Their teammate Sara Carrigan, who won the road race at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was third, giving Australia five of the six time trial medals.
O’Neill, the bronze medalist from the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, broke his neck in a race accident three years ago in the United States.
”It was a sprint finish to a race I was leading in America and I got squeezed and got pole-driven into the road,” O’Neill said. ”It was touch-and-go whether I’d survive and I had a broken neck, spinal cord trauma, and complete paralysis.
”I’ve had a series of downs and I realize how lucky I am to be alive.”
He received a late release from his professional Health Net-Maxxis racing team in the United States to compete here.
”We did some negotiations pretty late in the game,” said O’Neill, who will jet back to the United States to race the Redlands Bicycle Classic in California this weekend. ”I’ve got to leave tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, I’ve got another race Friday. It’s a bit of a hit-and-run mission, but at least I can enjoy being the Commonwealth champion.”
O’Neill said a brisk breeze on the course didn’t bother him.
”I like the tougher conditions,” said O’Neill. ”I settled into a nice fast rhythm. For me, the harder the better. I was pleased the wind got up.”
Wood said she was motivated by her underdog status.
”I think I was the dark horse,” said Wood. ”At the nationals, I had an ordinary ride and these guys put minutes into me. We’ve got the road race on Sunday and that’s what I’ve really come her for.”
Watt, 41, decided to continue her international racing career when the seaside course was set up and she realized that it went right past her bicycle shop near St. Kilda.
”I couldn’t resist,” said Watt, adding that she was satisfied with the silver, her seventh Commonwealth Games medal. ”I was hoping to win gold … (but) it’s good Australia having 1-2-3.”
Olympic individual pursuit champion Sarah Ulmer withdrew just before the race due to a nagging back injury, but still hoped to race in Sunday’s road race.
”Everyone comes here to race and to not even be able to race is heinous,” said Ulmer, who set the pursuit world record at the Athens Olympics before concentrating on road racing.
”That’s why we train for 364 days of the year, so when it’s the 365th and you can’t actually put your cards in the race, it’s gutting.”