Cycling – Skinner powers Britain home to team sprint gold
RIO DE JANEIRO – Tasked with occupying the saddle vacated by British track cycling colossus Chris Hoy, Callum Skinner proved the perfect man for the job as he anchored his country’s team sprint trio to Olympic gold.
With six-times Olympic medallist Hoy watching from a commentary position inside Rio’s velodrome, Skinner nailed a superb final lap as Britain beat favourites and world champions New Zealand by the slenderest of margins — 0.102 seconds.
Britain, who set a new Olympic record of 42.440, have now won the event at the last three Olympics.
France, runner-up in London, beat Australia for bronze.
Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny, who won with Hoy in London four years ago, took their turn on the front for the first two laps but it was too close to call as Skinner went solo on the final circuit against New Zealand’s talisman Edwards Dawkins.
He duly delivered over the final 250m as Britain launched another assault on the Olympic track medals after the team won seven of the 10 golds on offer in London.
“It was the best way to do it, we set an Olympic record in the qualifying round, then the Kiwis took it off us again, then we set another Olympic record in the final and beat the world champions, so it’s just incredible,” the 23-year-old Scot said.
“There is no better way to win it.”
Kenny, who will also be trying to retain his individual sprint title, now has four Olympic gold medals — as many as team mate Bradley Wiggins who was part of the team pursuit quartet who set the quickest qualifying time earlier.
Britain have not won a medal of any colour in team sprint at the four world championships since London 2012 as the retired Hoy’s absence hit home, so this victory was an unexpected boost on the opening day of action on the boards.
“The past four years haven’t been easy,” Kenny said. “We struggled in a few other races but we finally got it right when it mattered. It’s a good first day on the velodrome.” “We can’t win worlds to save our lives, but we win the Olympics every time.” Hoy, Britain’s most decorated Olympian alongside Wiggins, was on his feet cheering as Skinner blasted home.
“That was unbelievable. I know what it feels like to be in Callum Skinner’s position and he dealt with it in great fashion,” Hoy told the BBC.
“He’s worked so hard to win his place in the team — he did that and there were all kinds of doubters.”
Britain put down a marker in the qualifying round when they trimmed the Olympic record to 42.562 only to watch New Zealand go even quicker in the first round to set up a showdown between the two fastest teams on the track.
New Zealand, with Sam Webster and Ethan Mitchell flying, were ahead for the first half of the final, but despite Dawkins straining every sinew they could not hang on and their wait for an Olympic gold in the event goes on.
“We can’t really fault what we have done, we did three personal bests today and one was an Olympic record,” Dawkins, who could not hide his disappointment, told reporters. “There is not much to turn your nose up about apart from the end result. As a trio we smashed it. Gutted it’s not gold.” -Reuters