August 06, 2012 (London, UK) – The Whitten family gathered outside the red cedar panels outside the velodrome wearing their “Tara Whitten Gold” t-shirts. Proud father David Whitten – a Masters mountain biker in his own right – stands the proudest. Edmonton to London is a 7-hour time zone change, which was easy to handle if you’re here to watch Tara Whitten. The first three events of the Omnium – the 250 metre flying sprint; the Points race and the Elimination race would commence within the hour.
Whitten didn’t have the sprint she normally has when she ends up placing in the top three. Today she was 7th in a time of 14.516. Team GB’s Laura Trott won the event in 14.057; Clara Sanchez of France was 2nd in 14.058; Australia’s Annette Edmondson took 3rd place in 14.261 while Holland’s Kirsten Wild was 4th.
The Points race was where Whitten gained. She quickly took 2nd by a tire width in the first sprint as Australia’s Edmondson just snuck by. Whitten missed the break when Trott, Cuba’s Marlies Garcia Mejias, China’s Li Huang, Spain’s Dorronsoro Olaberria, Poland’s Malgorzata Wojtyra and Edmondson gained a lap on the field.
Whitten’s reaction to that, once she and the other riders had been lapped, was to jump with New Zealand’s Joanne Kisanowski and USA’s Sarah Hammer, steal the lap back from the six and lap the rest of the field. She was on a run then, winning 20 bonus points for lapping the field, and followed this up with a 2nd in the sixth of eight sprints. In the final sprint she took third.
The final tally put Wojtyra in first with 34 points, Belarus’s Tatsiana Sharakova and Whitten with equal amount of points at 28 in second and third, Belgium’s Jolien D’Hoore in 4th and Hammer in 5th. Overall, this moved Whitten into 3rd overall.
Whitten’s first half of the Elimination race less than an hour later was aggressive. She rode from the front as the last rider over the line is eliminated on each bell lap. It’s a reverse race in many ways, and Whitten was pulling the field around with her. But just before Sprint 10, after more than half the field had been eliminated, she found herself boxed in at the back and the last over the line.
There were seven riders still left on the track, but were any of them right behind or ahead of her in the standings? Absolutely. Team GB’s Laura Trott, who won the Elimination race in a deadly sprint against Hammer, moved into first place overall. Hammer had the same amount of points (12) and was given second place. Australia’s Annette Edmondson was third with 17, while Whitten now sits in fourth with 18, but Belgium’s D’Hoore is right behind her with 20. Wojtyra of Poland took fifth place so far with 24.
“There were a few up’s and down’s. The Points race was one of the best points race I’ve had in the past couple of years. I knew I needed a good points race and had to take advantage of any opportunity. But the Elimination race was a bit of a disappointment,” said Whitten as the day wrapped up. “Usually it’s an event I can count on. I just got caught [at the back].” Indeed, it appeared Whitten did not appear to know what a dangerous position she was in as the pack rounded the banking to the sprint straightaway as she didn’t counter moves made by riders getting by her. Track coach Richard Wooles commented saying, “She got boxed in on the inside…” and in order to get out of that situation, she needed to “…commit earlier and just couldn’t do it.”
“I think I can go back up on the rankings [tomorrow]. I have a really good Pursuit. So, I’m looking forward to that and then we’ll see with the Scratch race and the 500 what my strategy will be.”
Men’s Sprint: Here We Go Again
The IOC only allowed countries to send one cyclist per individual track event so the reigning Olympic champion, Team GB’s Sir Christopher Hoy, was unable to defend his title as Jason Kenny beat him in the nation’s selection race. Kenny took the silver in Beijing and now it was his golden turn, taking the sprint two straight against long-time rival Gregory Bauge of France. Bauge went in as the 2012 world champion and as the silver medalist in the team sprint from the 2008 Olympics – beaten there by Team GB.
But no matter what tactic he used, riding Kenny up the banking, forcing him to lead or playing cat to Kenny’s mouse (if you could use such a descriptor of an Olympic champion) nothing worked for Bauge. Kenny simply jumped Bauge, almost appearing as if he could start the sprint whenever he felt like it, and opened up an insurmountable lead. It happened in two straight, taking the first heat in 10.232 and the second in 10.308.
“It’s amazing,” said Kenny, of his 2008 silver and 2012 gold. “I hadn’t thought about it until the last lap; then it dawned on me. It was quite the battle to get here with Chris. I didn’t want to mess that one up. I was really pleased. I just did it for the team. It’s pretty amazing.”
Kenny had kind words for Bauge. “I am really pleased about that. We’re really close. At the worlds and the year before, he’s been the slightly faster rider. Three days ago I qualified a little bit quicker, and again the race has come down to that. I like racing against Bauge. He’s a real pro rider and it always makes for some pretty exciting racing. I am really pleased.”
Kenny broke Hoy’s Olympic record in the qualifier, sprinting to a 9.713 against Hoy’s 2008 sprint of 9.815. Bauge recorded a 9.952 as the second fastest qualifier. The qualifier predicted the medalists as third fastest was Australia’s Shane Perkins in 9.987. It was Trinidad’s Nicholas Njisane Phillip who moved up the rankings, having had a 10.202 qualifier, which put him 10th, but ended up sprinting his way to fourth spot.
Bauge, meanwhile, was candid about being a French athlete in a partisan crowd. “It’s never easy, but it’s part of the parameters of the race. I’m not going to hide it. For about two or three days there has been a crazy atmosphere here that can break you. I have no regrets because I think I had a good race and after all, it’s sport.”
Like many athletes at these Games who did not perform up to their expectation of themselves, Bauge made an apology. “I’m disappointed for myself and those who have encouraged me. Kisses to the French people, the people in Guadeloupe and at my friends. This makes another medal for France, so in terms of the total, I think we are okay.”
Perkins, who saved face for the Aussies as they quickly have descended from the throne of world cycling powers, wasn’t terribly happy with bronze. “It’s not the medal I wanted. It’s fantastic to come away with bronze. It’s my first Olympics and I got a medal out of it. Crowds have been great. I’ve really enjoyed myself.” Perkins just missed out on the team sprint medal so in many ways this was a comeuppance. “We had the confidence of winning the world championships, then to come here and place fourth is a bit of a blow.”
Next up for these gentlemen is the Keirin in Tuesday’s competition. While Canada did not qualify anyone for the sprint, Joseph Veloce joins the sprinters in the Keirin with the first round starting at 10:00 a.m.
Full results HERE.