Cycling: James strikes world gold again to redeem the agony of 2012
Sunday 24 February 2013
The superlatives to describe Becky James had long since run out before she became the first British cyclist in history to win four medals at a single World Championships with gold in the keirin here on Sunday.
It more than made amends for her Olympic heartache, when she was denied the chance to compete on her sport's biggest stage after injury, illness and an operation to remove her appendix. The British Cycling hierarchy had taken the decision to keep her away from the Games altogether, insisting she kept on training rather than checking into the athletes' village and being part of the wider team.
The head coach, Shane Sutton, admitted that James had only truly forgiven him when she took her first gold the previous day in the sprint. Barely 24 hours later, gold No 2 was being placed around her neck.
"I can't believe this," said the 21-year-old, who had barely two hours' sleep the night before. "After the second round, I was feeling it in my legs. I really struggled getting up from the back. So I said if I got to the front they'd have to come around me. It just worked out so well. It's a complete dream come true, apart from the pain in my legs."
In the final, she took up the front spot behind the derny but, such has been her speed, her rivals knew that she was the greatest danger whatever her position. The first challenge came from Lisandra Guerra Rodriguez at the bell. The Cuban briefly nudged ahead but James pushed as wide to the red line as legally possible to force her rivals to go the long way round to catch her. None could and a second rainbow jersey was attained.
It was a far cry from 2012, when she reached her lowest ebb as a cyclist by missing her home Olympics. "It was one of the hardest times I went through but I'm reaping the benefits now," said James, who attended the Games only as a spectator solely to watch Sir Chris Hoy's keirin win.
Of that decision, Sutton said: "We felt it was important she cracked on with training and wasn't part of the village scene. I remember saying to her, 'You'll probably hate me for this but you've got to lose big to win and, unfortunately, we're not going to take you to the village as part of the Games'. At the time she probably wanted to shoot me. On Saturday night, she looked back and thought, 'Good decision'."
Whatever she does now after two weeks with her boyfriend, the rugby player George North, and her family, already she has stepped out of the shadow of Victoria Pendleton.
"Vicky is one of the greatest of all time," added Sutton. "She will always hold that mantle alongside Anna Meares and Natallia [Tsylinskaya, of Belarus, who won eight world titles to Pendleton's nine] for me. This girl compares with all of them. She has probably got a little more tactical nous than most of them. She has probably got a steeliness more than them, as well, but she probably hasn't got the raw speed yet that Vicky had."
The gold meant Britain once more topped the medals table with five golds and nine medals in all. From 1893 to 2001, Britain had boasted 46 track cycling world titles; since 2001, they have won 47.
Laura Trott may well have expected to make that tally 48 but suffered her first track defeat in more than a year since the omnium at the London Track World Cup event. Prior to Minsk, the only medals she had ever won at major championships were gold – two Olympic titles, four rainbow jerseys and three European golds.
She started the day with five points to make up on American Sarah Hammer and the task proved too great. Trott put everything into trying to claw back the day one leader, and she was sick into a bucket off the side of the track – a relatively common occurrence for Trott because of a stomach condition – following her individual pursuit ride. But the previous day's points race had been her undoing.
"I'm slightly disappointed, I wanted to win both of them," said Trott, who had already picked up a gold in the team pursuit. "I tried my best but a better rider beat me on the day."
In training, Trott has only ever focused on the team pursuit, the omnium in a sense an added bonus. But she admitted she will now work with former points world champion Chris Newton to focus on the points race in particular.
"I don't really know how to ride it," she said. "I need to learn it."
Brit pack: GB'S medal haul
* GOLD (5)
Men's keirin: Jason Kenny
Men's points race: Simon Yates
Women's sprint: Rebecca James
Women's team pursuit: Laura Trott, Dani King & Elinor Barker
Women's keirin: James
* SILVER (2)
Men's team pursuit: Steven Burke, Ed Clancy, Sam Harrison & Andrew Tennant
Women's omnium: Trott
* BRONZE (2)
Women's 500m time trial: James
Women's team sprint: James & Victoria Williamson
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