August 25, 2004 – Men’s Keirin: This event allows riders per heat to wind up huge gears while being motor-paced for five laps, and then let it rip for the next three laps and sprint it out for the finish. There were three qualifying heats with seven riders, which would determine the two finalists from each heat that advance to the second round. It is not uncommon to reach speeds of nearly 70 kms per hour in this event.
The big upset occurred in the first heat when Greece’s Labros Vasilopoulos delighted the home crowd and qualified ahead of much more experienced riders, particularly Theo Bos from the Netherlands, Toshiaki Fushimi from Japan, and Jens Fielder from Germany. Australia’s Ryan Bayley won, as did Germany’s Rene Wolff and Spain’s Jose Escurdeo in the second heat, and Aussie Shane Kelly and Czech rider Ivan Vrba in the third heat. As well, six more riders from the repecharge would be added to the field.
By the end of the second round, both Aussies had survived, as had Escurdeo, Wolff, France’s Mickael Bourgain, and the second surprise of the night-Malaysia’s Josiah Ng. Not surprisingly, the Aussie Train took charge with Bayley so far ahead, he had to race against himself, followed by Spain’s Escuredo, and Bayley’s teammate Shane Kelly.
This 50 km event of 200 laps with 10 sprints interspersed throughout, is as confusing, and exciting to watch as the points race. Like the points race, teams gain points by placing in the top five in each sprint. Two-man teams from seventeen countries contested the race that allows one rider to ride slowly around the track, and recover, while the other races against the other sixteen teams, until he laps his teammate. At that point, the Madison sling takes place as the recovering rider speeds up, and his teammate either propels him by pushing him forward on his hip, or slings him forward as the two riders grasp hands.
Once again the Aussie train dominated, gaining points in seven sprints, and lapping the field once, for a total of 22 points. Switzerland came through for the silver after receiving points in three sprints, and also lapping the field to gain 15 points. Finally Great Britain took the bronze with points in four sprints, and lapping the field for a total of 12 points. Australia won one sprint, came third five times, and fourth once in the sprints, while Switzerland won three sprints, and Great Britain won the first sprint, came third in one, and fourth in two.
In total the Aussies won nine medals over five days of track cycling, pocketing five gold, two silver, and two bronze. Anna Meares took one of those golds and the bronze. The others belong to the men’s team, by far the most powerful cycling team that any country has fielded in recent Olympic history. Of course these achievements are seen in the swirl of doping allegations that surround, not just the team, but the entire program. We have yet to see what the complete investigation into the team will unearth if anything.
Great Britain took second with two golds, one silver, and one bronze, while Russia was third with a total of three track medals-two golds and a bronze, with the bulk of them coming from their very strong and deep women’s team.