The last races in the Olympic velodrome ended in utter triumph for the British but shattered the dreams of Victoria Pendleton, who ended her extraordinary career without the second London gold she coveted, and Canada’s Tara Whitten, who narrowly missed bronze.
Whitten was heartbroken by her fourth-place finish in the omnium, a two-day, six-race event where she had been on track for a bronze. After the race, she was overcome with tears and disappointment.
“I just gave it everything I had today and it wasn’t enough,” she said. “It’s pretty disappointing.”
Whitten does not leave London empty handed. Three days ago, in the team pursuit, she and Gillian Carleton and Jasmin Glaesser took bronze. It was Whitten’s first medal in her first Olympics. But she had hoped for silver or gold.
Whitten looked strong on the omnium’s first day, finishing fourth after three races. She moved into third position Tuesday morning, then lost momentum in the last two races. In the second last race – known as the scratch race – she got bunched up with the pack and couldn’t break out. “I am better when the race is strung out,” he said. “When it comes out to a bunch sprint like that, I’m not quite as good at finding the right wheel.”
The ominium’s winner was Laura Trott, a mere 20 years old, who has emerged as Britain’s new cycling prodigy. She won gold in the team pursuit. Her double-gold is further proof that Britain’s cycling talent is extensive, deep and bound to be in ample display in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, plus all the world cycling championships before then.
Trott is already being touted as the new queen of British cycling now that the reign of Pendleton has come to end. Pendleton, 31, won the keirin in the velodrome. All of Britain expected her to win the sprint – the last Olympic race of her career – on Sunday, even if they knew that her archrival, Anna Meares of Australia, would fight her to the last millimetre of he race.
Pendleton won the first race in the three-leg final against Meares by a mere thousandth of second, which makes the blink of an eye seem glacial. She got disqualified in the second race for straying out of the sprinter’s lane, and lost by a wide margin in the third.
Pendleton’s silver ended her effort to become the first British woman to take a hat-trick of cycling gold. While she didn’t speak to the press, Queen Vic or Vicky, as she is known, was gracious enough to perform a farewell lap, waving as she cried.
Even though Pendleton ended her career on a silver note, Britons were ecstatic by Trott’s triumph and the stunning victory of Sir Chris Hoy, 36, in the keirin, handing him his sixth gold of his career and the second of the London Games. The Scotsman has now surpassed rower Sir Steve Redgrave’s total of five gold medals, making him Britain’s most highly decorated Olympian.
Hoy’s triumph left Britain with ownership of the velodrome, where its track riders captured seven golds, one silver and one bronze in ten events. That tally matches its winning streak in Beijing.
Hoy is retiring from the sport. So, apparently, is Whitten, who is said she will return to Edmonton to resume her studies in neuroscience science at the University of Alberta.
In spite of her finish off the podium Tuesday, she has had a remarkable career, especially for an athlete has competed in cycling for only five years. She has won three world championships, two in the omnium and one in the points race, and an Olympic bronze. “I’ve experienced success and disappointment, a bit of everything, that’s part of sport,” she said. “I loved the process of trying to be at my best. It was an incredible experience.”