Drama, tears but solid silver as Pendleton falls to her nemesis Meares

 

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The Independent Online

So near but so far: Victoria Pendleton's final race ended in tears and disappointment when she could only win silver as Australia's Anna Meares, her long-standing nemesis, defeated her for one last time in the individual sprint.

Had Pendleton prevailed, the defending Olympic champion would have become Britain's first woman athlete to win three Olympic golds.

But a relegation in the first race of three saw Pendleton fall one round behind Meares, and in the second the Australian then strongly outpowered her to regain the Olympic title she had lost to the Briton in Beijing. China's Guo Shuang repeated her bronze from the 2008 Games by beating Germany's Kristina Vogel.

The relegation, for veering out of her lane, was particularly painful because it was not the first time she has suffered in these Games. That came when she was disqualified together with Jess Varnish in the women's team sprint on Thursday, the one track race where Britain has not taken any medals of any colour in 2012.

Winning the keirin on Friday for Olympic gold medal No 2 of her career seemed to put paid to that setback, and, oozing confidence, Pendleton appeared on track for a third time in the sprint before retiring.

There was no fairytale ending. Fighting back the tears, Pendleton rode round and round the velodrome, repeatedly saluting the crowd, who roared her name in response in this most emotional of send-offs.

There is no doubting that Pendleton, right, who smiled radiantly at the cameras as she clutched her Olympic silver medal, leaves a huge gap. The individual sprint has virtually been Pendleton's private property ever since 2005 when she won her first world championship gold.

Since then she has netted Olympic gold in Beijing, and racked up no less than six world titles in this discipline alone, as well as a silver and a bronze.

But throughout it all Meares has been the rival who has dogged her tracks the most persistently. After first crossing swords at the Olympic kilometre time in 2004, which Meares won, she then went on to accuse her rival of "liking to push the rules" in 2006.

At 2008 in Beijing, however, Pendleton inflicted her greatest defeat on Meares, beating her in two straight rounds.

Given they have 19 world titles and three Olympic golds between them before yesterday, it was almost, but not quite inevitable, that Pendleton and Meares would once again come head to head in the final. This time Meares won – but Pendleton can leave the sport with her head held high.

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