The Olympic velodrome has been an a gold mine for Britain’s cyclists and the medal run is bound to continue today when Victoria Pendleton – the country’s ferocious track superstar – ends her phenomenal career in a sprint that will finally close the book on her long rivalry with Australia’s Anna Meares.
Pendleton, known as Queen Vic, Vicky or just plain Vic, has already won in the keirin at London 2012 after suffering relegation with Jess Varnish in the women’s team pursuit. If she wins later today in the sprint, she will end the Games and her career as a double gold winner. She won sprinting gold in Beijing in 2008 and a rude number of sprint world championships since then.
Pendleton, 31, has captured Britain’s imagination like few other athletes. She is a quirky and complex combination of inner strength and outer frailty, though at moments the reverse is true. She is prone to bursting into tears on the podium and has never hidden the psychological and physical pain she has suffered since her Beijing triumph.
Shortly after the Beijing Games, she started to fall apart and, with typical candour, never hesitated to bare her soul. "I’m striving for something I’ll never achieve – I’m a mess," she said at the time.
Though she went on to win three championships after Beijing, she also had some damaging losses. The low point came in March, 2011, when she lost her world title to Meares, her traditional rival. Half a year later, she got clobbered in European championships and promptly disappeared from view. She has always admitted she lacks confidence.
Pendleton is now back with a vengeance. The only question is whether Meares and another formidable rival, Germany’s Kristina Vogel, are willing to allow Pendleton to take another gold. Meares is also winding down her career and she too covets another medal. Meares took silver, behind Pendleton, in Beijing and has fought her like a wildcat since then.
The women’s sprint is not the only bit of high drama in the velodrome this afternoon. The women’s ominium is bound to prove the worth of a new generation of British female cyclists, notably Laura Trott, who is only 20 and has already won a gold in London in the women’s team pursuit.
With four of six ominum races done by noon London time, Trott was ranked second in the ominum behind Sarah Hammer of the United States. Canada’s Tara Whitten was an impressive third. The Whitten-led trio won bronze in the team pursuit the other day.
Rounding out a blockbuster day in the velodrome, which has been ranked as the loudest Olympic venue, is non other than Sir Chris Hoy.
Hoy, Scotland’s most famous athlete, has won five Olympic golds – one in Athens, three in Beijing and one so far in London. A victory in the keirin later today would bring him a sixth gold and international superstar status.
If Pendleton and Hoy win the last Olympic races of their career, the sheer decibel level in the velodrome will make 6,000 cycling fans in the arena deaf but exceedingly happy. Today, the velodrome is the hottest ticket in town.