LONDON (Reuters) – Chris Hoy shed tears of joy and Victoria Pendleton’s bitter sweet sobs echoed around the Velodrome as Britain ended their Olympic track cycling campaign with seven titles on a thrilling, highly emotional Tuesday.
Hoy bagged his sixth Games gold with a comprehensive win in the keirin minutes after Pendleton ended her scintillating career with defeat against her arch rival Anna Meares of Australia.
With six-time Olympic champion Hoy extremely unlikely to defend his titles in four years in Rio, the future of British cycling is in the safe hands of new sprint king Jason Kenny and Laura Trott, who at 20 claimed her second Games gold by winning the omnium on Tuesday to add to her team pursuit title.
Trott and Hoy’s golds earned the host nation their sixth and seventh titles in London, matching their record medal haul from Beijing four years ago.
Hoy’s title triggered the biggest roar from a rapturous Velodrome crowd, who for the first time let slip a few boos when Pendleton was relegated from her first leg against Meares.
Pendleton, who had also been relegated from the team sprint, had beaten Meares to the line by a clipped nail, but officials ruled she had left the sprinting lane though it had first looked like she had been elbowed by the Australian.
“I won’t even bother to watch it again, I am starting a new life now,” said Pendleton.
In the second leg, Meares, a fine tactician, forced Pendleton into the lead with a now rarely seen standstill before overcoming the Briton in the final banking, punching the air in delight before the finish line.
“Victoria is such a hard-fought opponent and she’s dominated the sport for so long,” Meares, often dubbed the villain in the long-standing rivalry between the two, told reporters after securing Australia’s only track gold in London.
“It’s been such a difficult challenge and to be able to win the Olympic title for me, it’s so special.
“I’ve tried so much and worked so hard for a long period of time and I’ve asked a lot of people around me to do the same so it feels like this is a just reward.”
Perhaps Pendleton felt the same, applauding Meares before completing a farewell lap and bursting into tears after getting off her bike, abandoning her title and years of sacrifices.
Her face was covered in tears again on the podium, but those were tears of relief as they signalled the end of career that she, deep inside, did not really want.
“I was crying and people said you must be so sad, but I am just so happy it is over,” the 31-year-old Pendleton told reporters.
“And it is over without a doubt. It would be my worst nightmare right now to have to relive the last week of my life. Just hanging around waiting. The expectation of the team, it is too much.”
Watching her bid farewell to the crowd and pose for the cameras was the twinkling Trott, with Kenny the next big thing in British track cycling.
“She has had a massive influence on me, she has been my idol ever since I saw her in Beijing, well before that really,” said Trott, who won the omnium ahead of American Sarah Hammer by a single point thanks to a perfectly executed final time trial.
“She is such an inspiration. All through when I was a junior and first year senior I just wanted to be like her and just achieve what she has achieved.
“She is a role model on and off the bike, I think you can’t ask for a better role model than Vicky.”
Kenny would think the same of Hoy, who beat Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins on ‘gold difference’ with his sixth title, his seventh medal, to become Britain’s most successful Olympian.
The 36-year-old Scot, in tears on the podium afterwards, retained his keirin title in typical fashion, powering into an early lead in the six-man, adrenaline-filled final.
German Maximilian Levy, who clinched the silver medal, pushed him to the limit as he gained a slight advantage in the final bend but Hoy finished it off in style with a devastating surge in the home straight.
“We have seen a legend, not just in the sport but as a person. The magnitude of the win is unbelievable. Chris pulled victory from the jaws of defeat there,” said Britain’s head coach Shane Sutton.
For the first time, four medals were awarded at a single cycling event when New Zealand’s Simon van Velthooven and Dutchman Teun Mulder both took bronze after a photo finish could not separate them.
“The keirin is a lottery and you never take anything for granted in it. I can’t describe the feelings I have at the moment,” said Hoy, who had started his Olympic medal harvest with silver in the team sprint in Sydney 12 years ago.
If keirin is really a lottery, Hoy certainly is a lucky man.
(This version of the story was corrected to state that Sutton is Britain’s coach, not British coach in paragraph 23)
(Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Toby Davis; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)