Today opened the first day of track cycling in the 2012 Olympics. Track events are fast, a little scary, and also somewhat confusing. Luckily, today’s medal events were pretty simple: teams of cyclists race around a banked wooden track, with each rider taking the lead for one lap – the men’s sprint is 3 laps and 3 riders, and the women’s is 2 laps and 2 riders.
The men’s race was a great day for Great Britain. SIR Chris Hoy and the men’s sprint team set a new olympic record in the qualifications, a world record in the round 1, and a NEW world record in the finals – earning a gold medal, and repeating from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. France, another track cycling power, got silver, with Germany winning the Bronze medal race.
The women’s race became problematic. This is the first time the team sprint has been a women’s olympic event. The rules state that a team will be relegated to last place in the race if
1) if a rider draws away by more than 15 metres before the end of the lap that he is to lead
2) if a rider does not draw away by more than 15 metres after the end of the lap that he was supposed
3) if one rider pushes another.
Thus, if you switch lead riders too soon or too late, you can be relegated, which means you get ‘last’ in your heat. (In the sprint, it’s two teams at a time). This rule would eventually decide the medal winners in the women’s team sprint.
So, while, the afternoon was exciting – with the World Record being broken three successive times, the spirit was dampened a little when the judges announced that Great Britain’s team of Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Varnish, who had done the second breaking of the World Record and were currently in second place after Round 1, had been relegated – at this stage, that meant they would not go to the medal races at all. Naturally, this was upsetting as Great Britain were favorites, on their home turf.
In the medal round, Australia beat Ukraine to secure the bronze medal. In the gold medal race, China finished faster than the Australians – and celebrations had already begun (this would have been China’s first ever cycling gold medal), when the other shoe dropped: the Chinese team of Gong Jinjie and Guo Shuang had also been relegated based on an untimely lead switch. This had a slightly less harsh effect – Germany would get the gold, and China would have to settle for the silver. Gong and Guo initially looked like they might refuse the medals, but after some coaxing, got up on the podium and put on understandably less than 100% sincere smiles.
It really is a bit of a shame. The relegated teams should have paid more attention to the timing, but the new judging system comes down to photo frames that tell them whether or not the team switched at the right time – and apparently, that’s fairly new. This just isn’t the kind of thing you want to decide the race. It was also a distraction to the world record times being put up – apparently the velodrome in London is really the fastest track yet.
Hopefully Pendleton and Guo will get the face-off they deserve in the individual sprint (they are 2008′s gold and silver medalists). And in the individual, there’s no pesky switches to worry about.