August 21, 2004 – 500m TT: First it was an Olympic record for Yonghua Jiang of China as she broke Felicia Ballanger’s record set in Sydney of 34.10 with 34.112. Then the final rider, Anna Meares of Australia, did one better and broke Jiang’s world record of 34 flat with a superb time and the smoothest of rides in 33.952. The packed to the rafters velodrome – the only covered track in Greece, but minus air conditioning – went wild. The Aussie women’s cycling machine broke through again. The Canadian team, one hesitates to call it a machine, is not yet so well oiled. But Lori-Anne Muenzer of Calgary did set a Canadian record and recorded a personal best with her time of 34.628 which placed her seventh.
“I had no expectations on numbers,” said Muenzer. “It was my best effort and best rider ever, so I am very happy.” Meanwhile, Meares, just off a team training camp in Germany, said she too didn’t come with overwhelming expectations. “I wasn’t looking at a world record to tell the truth. But when the weather’s hot and dry like this, the track is always fast. I came here looking for a personal best time, which I did get.”
Things cooled down slightly as the evening breeze wafted through the velodrome for the men’s kilo event. It is built in such a way that all sides are open with the high-arcing ceiling shading spectators from the Mediterranean sun, but not the heat. Temperatures may have cooled a bit, but the tension and speed was heating up by the time Australia’s Shane Kelly started. Four years earlier, in his home country, Kelly lived the worst nightmare when his foot came out at the start. This time he was redeemed with a new Olympic record of 1:02:224. But it stood for possibly five minutes as Stefan Nimke of Germany was up next. For the first two laps, Nimke was just slightly behind Kelly’s time, but on the third, was up by .085 seconds. A banner fluttered from the stands, “Stefan Everything is possible” it read. He recorded a new Olympic record of 1:01:86.
But records are meant to be broken, and two riders later, Arnaud Tournaud of France cleaned the slate with a time of 1:00:896, which stood for as long as Kelly’s did as British rider Chris Hoy, last to go, and first to finish, broke it one more time in a blistering 1:00:711.
“I was more nervous than I had ever been in my whole life,” said Hoy. “To see such fast times. There’s a lot of pressure on going at the end. But if you stay focusing on your own ride, you can only ride your best.” Tournaud created a commotion when he declared he would not start the press conference until the reporter from Le Monde, France’s largest daily, left the room. Le Monde had recently done a feature on Tournaud and his team, asking why they had simply disappeared for six weeks, not showing up for any races, or scheduled appearances. It was inferred that this was the drying out period when they could ensure that they would test clean.