The most eye-catching building at the Olympic site is the velodrome, known as the Pringle, because it looks like a Pringles potato chip. The elegant structure sinks in the middle and flares at each end. From a distance, it looks like a space ship designed by aliens who graduated from the finest architectural school.
The perfectly smooth Siberian pine track itself reflects the shape of the building – low in the middle, with sloping ends. Design fans adore the building. So do the track riders, who expect to see more than a few records broken in the coming track events. “I love this track,” said Canadian sprinter Gillian Carleton, who is competing in the team pursuit.
Indeed, the Canadian women’s team pursuit team posted times that, unofficially, broke world records in the training sessions alone. And on Thursday, the opening day of the track events, Sir Chris Hoy of Great Britain was so fast on the track that his three-man pursuit team scored gold, handing Hoy a record-equaling fifth for a Briton (Sir Steve Redrave won five in rowing).
Canada’s medal chances in the velodrome are high. Two riders stand out – Tara Whitten and Zachary Bell. Whitten, who is from Edmonton, competes in the team pursuit on Friday afternoon, and race in the omnium next Monday and Tuesday. Bell, from Yukon, competes only in the omnium on Saturday and Sunday.
Both are highly decorated competitors and interesting cats. Whitten, a former national team cross country skier, has won gold in the ominum in two world championships and gold in the points race.
She is a neuroscience candidate in the psychology department at the University of Alberta. But she is not convinced her academic training always gives her an advantage on the start line. “Sometimes in the mass start races, over analyzing is not the best approach,” she said. “It’s better to react on instinct. I’m always out there trying to process things.”
Bell is a former wrestler and has won silver in two ominum world championships. He finished seventh in the points race at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. When asked to assess his medal chances in London, he said: “I like them a whole lot more than four years ago.”
The omnium, which is making its Olympic debut, is an odd event. In both the men’s and women’s events (the women’s version has shorter distances), the riders must complete a flying lap, a points race, an individual pursuit, a scratch race, a kilometre time trial and an elimination race, in which the last rider is eliminated every second lap.
The ominium, held over two days, is long and complicated an no rider can excel in each discipline. The diversity of the event means that riders who can combine blazing speed with endure and superb tactical savvy come out on top. Bell admits he is most confident in the scratch and points races.
Tickets for the velodrome, which seats just 6,000, sold out within nanoseconds. It’s not just because the building is a thing of beauty; it’s because of the thrill factor of watching riders zip by in a blur at 70 kilometres an hour on a track with a cliff-like angle. It is possible that more records will be broken here than at any other Olympic event and the Canadian riders want to be the ones breaking them.