LONDON (Reuters) - Six world records, home joy and two major disqualifications marked the first dramatic day of track cycling at the Olympics on Thursday where Britain’s men retained their team sprint title in front of assembled glitterati.
Chris Hoy picked up his sixth Games medal and fifth gold as Britain beat France in a world record time of 42.600 seconds to leave the London velodrome in ecstasy with Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron among those cheering in the crowd.
The emotions inside the futuristic arena were very different minutes earlier when first home hope Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Varnish were disqualified from the team sprint for an illegal changeover and then an angry China suffered the same fate after assuming they had won gold.
Germany therefore ended up as the women’s champions with China, whose officials remonstrated with the commissaires, relegated to silver as the capacity crowd struggled to keep up with the rules and the changing results.
The thousands of Union Jack waving fans had just about regained their composure with events coming thick and fast in the intentionally hot and humid velodrome when the men’s sprint final brought gargantuan glory.
Hoy, who had tears welling in his eyes on the podium, told reporters: “It’s just great to win here in the UK, in front of this crowd, it’s phenomenal. You cannot overstate what this means to us. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The British trio of Hoy, Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes had a mixed start to the day with Hindes falling over early on in qualifying before a restart. They then smashed the world record in the first round before leaving their best ride until last.
Britain’s track success followed Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins roaring to gold in the men’s road time trial on Wednesday as the Olympic hosts rubber-stamped their domination of the sport.
Strains of Lou Reed’s classic “Perfect Day” oozed from the speakers as breathless fans including Prince Harry and world road champion Mark Cavendish filtered out but it was not such a wonderful few hours for some.
The women’s event looked more like a technical contest decided by commissaires rather than the riders’s efforts on the track with China, who broke the world record twice in qualifying and the first round, falling foul of strict officials.
“I can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. When Miriam told me I said ‘whoa what’s going on now?'” Germany’s Kristina Vogel said of her shock gold alongside Miriam Welte in the first Olympic running of the women’s team sprint.
The International Cycling Union rule 3.2.152 states: “The leading rider shall lead the first lap,” meaning that China’s Guo Shuang and Pendleton took over from their partners before the leadouts had completed the first lap.
Pendleton, the poster girl of the Games, tried hard not to cry when she realized her costly mistake as Britain bowed out in the first round and did not have the luxury of picking up silver as consolation like the Chinese.
Britain, who also broke a world record in qualifying before China bettered it twice, would have contested the gold medal final with the Chinese had Pendleton not gone too soon.
“You have to stick by the rules. The rules are there to make it a fair sport,” said Pendleton, who can make partial amends by defending her individual sprint title on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately we fell on the wrong side of that today.”
Australia took bronze in the women’s event with Germany third among the men.
The British men’s pursuit team looked in good form to retain their title as they broke the world record in qualifying ahead of Friday’s final.
Arch rivals Australia were second quickest, more than three seconds off the pace.
“We wanted to qualify with the fastest time. We can still tidy up our race. We knew we could do 3:52. We can go faster,” Britain’s Geraint Thomas said after their 3:52.499.
Additional reporting by Tom Pilcher; Editing by Alison Wildey