August 13, 2016 10:01:44 am
Bradley Wiggins fired Britain to track cycling team pursuit gold in a titanic final battle with Australia at the Rio Games on Friday, etching his name into the record books as the most decorated British Olympian of all time.
The icing on the cake for the quartet of Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Owain Doull was breaking the world record twice in the space of a few pulsating hours at Rio’s velodrome.
They blasted round the boards in a new best time for the 4,000m endurance event to crush New Zealand in the first round, then went even quicker to beat battling world champions Australia, who had squeezed past Denmark to reach the final.
The Danes took the bronze medal.
Britain’s third consecutive Olympic team pursuit title was never the forgone conclusion some expected it to be as the Australian quartet of Alexander Edmondson, Michael Hepburn, Sam Welsford and Jack Bobridge ran them close.
The Australians made a terrific start and were leading for three quarters of the race before Britain roared back to win by 0.743 seconds in a time of 3:50.265.
Former Tour de France champion Wiggins, affectionately known as ‘Sir Wiggo’ after receiving a knighthood for his exploits, ran across the steeply banked track to celebrate his eighth Olympic medal, one more than Chris Hoy, with his wife Catherine.
British fans chanted “Wiggo Wiggo” after the podium ceremony at which Wiggins, ever the entertainer, poked out his tongue during the anthem, causing chuckles from his team mates.
“Hats off to the Australians — they’re the reason we get up in the morning. It’s a relief,” he told reporters.
“Eighteen months ago there were doubts that I could come back and do this. It was gold or nothing for this team.
“We’re going out now. I’ll be hung over tomorrow.”
‘GO OUT ON TOP’
After Britain were beaten by Australia at the world championships in London this year, Wiggins promised that Britain would reverse the result in Rio.
He proved right.
“Training camps at altitude, early starts and late finishes. Cycling on Christmas Day. It was all for this and we’ve done it. These three guys here are amazing,” Wiggins said before confirming this would be his last Olympics.
“My kids need a proper dad in their lives. My wife needs a proper husband,” he said.
“I wanted to go out on top, and it was one of the best finals ever.”
While few expected Britain to be pushed so hard, Australia had not read the script and launched a furious attack which had them 0.695 seconds ahead by halfway.
Wiggins, leading from the front, then put the hammer down and the tide turned with the crowd roaring as the split times showed Britain slicing into the deficit.
“We knew going into the race we had a small chance,” Australia’s Hepburn told reporters.
“We decided to go full from the line. Ride fast schedule, put them under pressure and hopefully we can hold on.
“We rode faster than we’ve ever done.”
Wiggins now has five golds, one silver and two bronzes, although fellow cyclist Hoy’s collection includes six golds.
One of Wiggins’ golds was in the London 2012 road time trial, weeks after winning the Tour de France.
His latest feat earned praise from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who said on Twitter: “Great day for @TeamGB at #Rio2016. Congratulations to our medal-winning athletes, especially our most decorated Olympian @OfficialWIGGINS.”
Despite problems in the British Cycling camp in the lead-up to Rio, including Wiggins’ old mentor and team director Shane Sutton standing down after a discrimination controversy, Britain’s dominance on the boards continues.
They won seven of the 10 track cycling events in London and already have two after two days in Rio following the men’s team sprint triumph on Thursday when Jason Kenny took his Olympic gold medal haul to four.
Kenny will be favourite for individual sprint gold on Sunday as will the British women’s team pursuit squad, who set a new record in qualifying on Thursday. They go for gold on Saturday.
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