Cycling: Becky James keeps cool to capture gold
Welsh rider adds tactical nous and bravery to her speed for Britain's fourth World Championship win
Sunday 24 February 2013
The speed had already been apparent but Becky James added bravery, tactical nous and a cool head to her repertoire to win Britain a fourth gold medal here.
It was a fitting outcome for a rider who dominated the event from its beginnings on Friday to its dramatic conclusion on Saturday night, the 21-year-old pipping Germany's Kristina Vogel in three tight sprints.
The first of their meetings had come just moments after James's boyfriend, George North, had been part of the Wales rugby team which beat Italy, although James did not find out the result until after her own win.
While North played in the Roman deluge, for the first time this week expectations were dampened for James as she was outwitted by Vogel in their first encounter by less than a tyre width.
Watched by her grandparents, Kathleen and Ioan, in the stands, the rider from Abergavenny was devoid of the nerves that usually beset her and, after talking through the errors of race one with her coach, Jan van Eijden, kept a cool head to come past Vogel in race two and force a decider.
In that finale, she led out the German and kept her advantage all the way to the line to add gold to her bronze medals in the team sprint and 500 metre time trial.
"I can't even describe how I'm feeling right now," she said. "It's not sinking in. I had targets in my head but not to be stood on the top step of the podium tonight."
Prior to Saturday, she had shown speed but there was courage and quick thinking involved in the move that put her into the gold medal ride-off by outfoxing Guo Shang.
Riding high on the banked velodrome, she was less a Minsk missile and more the Abergavenny arrow with the accuracy in which she fired through the narrowest of gaps. It caught the Chinese rider unawares leaving James to pull away and go for gold against Vogel.
Such gutsy riding allied to her tactical prowess brought inevitable comparisons to Victoria Pendleton, who at last year's World Championships had come back from a nasty fall in the same event final to win her ninth world title.
James, three years younger than Pendleton was when she won her first world title, still has some way to match her sprint predecessor's record but, while the emotional and mental strain of competing oozed from every pore for Pendleton, James is apparently the antithesis.
As sprint coach Iain Dyer said: "I'm sure she'd like to be the new Becky James rather than the next Victoria Pendleton. I hope that these championships will be her springboard."
Van Eijden added: "We don't need to compare her to Vicky."
According to Dyer, James' medal run, which has individually put her ahead of China and Russia in the medal table, is not finished. She has the chance to win a fourth medal here tomorrow in the keirin.
Dyer described her as "one of the very best sprinters in the world". As for the keirin, he added: "I'd expect her to go very well indeed."
While one British sporting couple in James and North were celebrating 1,500 miles apart, another endured mixed fortunes on the Minsk track.
Jason Kenny was surprisingly sluggish in the sprint, failing to make it out of the quarter-finals, while the other half of British cycling's golden couple, Laura Trott, was not quite at peak form for much of the day.
Kenny has blown hot and cold at these championships but, unlike in the keirin where he bounced back to take gold, there was to be no similar Houdini act in the individual sprint.
Never that strong in qualifying, he was seventh quickest of the 42 runners. The next round against Pavel Kelemen was a relative mismatch and Kenny took that comfortably, but he was run close in his next encounter by Germany's Stefan Botticher, who had accounted for the earlier exit of his former German teammate Philip Hindes, now with the British set-up.
Kenny's demise finally came at the hands of Sam Webster, the New Zealander needing just two rides of their best-of-three encounter to despatch of the Olympic champion.
As Britain's other Olympic track champion, Trott started the Omnium as favourite but she came third in the opening event coming third and then 10th in the points race.
She won the final event of the day, the elimination race, but it leaves her third overall on 14 points, some way off from leader Sarah Hammer, of the United States, on nine.
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