Cycling: Britain cement supremacy with track haul
LONDON (Reuters) - Hosts Britain reasserted their domination in Olympic cycling with another awe-inspiring medal haul on the track although they failed to master the uncontrollable.
The squad took the velodrome by storm in a spine-chilling atmosphere with Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy leading the charge with two golds while the pursuit teams shattered world records as Britain equaled their Beijing record of seven titles.
The track achievements followed Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins's triumph in the time trial, erasing the team's failure to lead Mark Cavendish to an expected victory in the road race on the opening day.
The race was won by experienced Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov, who used his wits and took full advantage of the absence of radio communications, banned in championship races, to sneak away.
It showed that the risk factor can never be reduced to zero no matter how hard the British try to analyze every last aspect of the sport. Home hope Liam Phillips crashing out of contention in the men's BMX final was another prime example.
Britain's rivals, however, were generally left picking up the crumbs.
The team, led by British Cycling director of performance David Brailsford, grabbed a total of 12 medals across all disciplines, eight of them gold, while no other delegation managed more than one title.
The host nation's utter domination left a sour taste for the French, with some of their delegation wondering if Britain's cycling team had secret wheels.
Individual sprint silver medalist Gregory Bauge even asked Olympic champion Kenny how he had prepared for the Games.
There was no secret, Britain said reassuringly.
"It's simple things done well," team pursuit coach Dan Hunt told Reuters.
Brailsford said it was down to meticulous planning.
"I think they (the French) were lulled into a sense of security because we haven't lit it up for four years," he remarked.
"I think they felt that it was going to be touch and go, the margins were going to be very tight, the medals would be spread right across the different nations. I just think they didn't expect us to dominate like we have done."
Britain planned to peak for the Games.
"A human being cannot stay at the same level of intensity for four years, it's impossible," said Brailsford.
"It's difficult to peak on a given day at a given time once every four years. What really matters at the Games is that you're at your absolute peak of performance."
TEARS OF JOY
Britain's excellence exposed other traditional powerhouses, with Australia, France and Germany performing way below expectations.
Australian pursuit teams were comprehensively beaten on the track while France and Germany, the pre-event favorites in the team sprint, were no match for the hosts.
Australia were spared total embarrassment when Anna Meares beat British media darling Victoria Pendleton 2-0 in the individual sprint final on the day Hoy prevailed in the keirin to become Britain's most successful Olympian.
Hoy has seven Games medals, six of them gold, which put him ahead of Wiggins on 'gold difference' and took him past rower Steve Redgrave's previous record British tally of five golds.
Tears of joy for Hoy and sobs of relief for Pendleton concluded a crushing track campaign before Britain failed to follow up that success in BMX or mountain biking, disciplines they may invest in during the build-up to the 2016 Rio Games.
Latvia's Maris Strombergs retained his men's BMX title while Colombian Mariana Pajon took the women's prize. Julie Bresset finally won France a gold in the women's mountain bike with Jaroslav Kulhavy scooping victory among the men.
Some elements of the cycling programme could change in four years' time, especially on the track.
The complicated six-discipline omnium, the event that gave Britain's Laura Trott her second gold, was heavily criticized by most of the teams and riders.
Wiggins, possibly in the individual pursuit where he first won gold, could also make a return to the velodrome alongside Cavendish after they expressed a desire to be on the Rio track.
BMX, an adrenaline-packed, crash-filled discipline that made its first appearance at the Games four years ago, should stay on the schedule after this year's event looked much more competitive.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)