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OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Cycling: Boardman takes his golden bow

CHRIS Boardman's wife, Sally Anne, paid a tout double the face value for her ticket into the Vall d'Hebron cycling velodrome last night. It was 3,000 ( pounds 16) pesetas well spent.

Riding the new Lotus-designed bike which had helped him to set world best times on successive days, Boardman earned Britain its first gold medal of the Games after catching the world champion, Jens Lehmann, with just under 250 metres to go in the final of the 4,000 metes individual pursuit. No other winner had achieved that feat since the event became part of the Olympics in 1964.

The last circuit of the wooden track set amid the scrubby hills above Barcelona thus turned into a lap of honour for the 23-year-old former cabinet maker from the Wirral. After he had passed the labouring German with a triumphant punch of the air, his face lit up with a smile which simply would not dim as he wheeled round to embrace his wife at trackside. He was still grinning as he circled quietly round the infield, warming down on a bike that was a world away from the sleek, black aerodynamic beast with which he had demoralised the best in the world.

Only as he stood on the podium, the first Briton to earn an Olympic gold medal in cycling since Harry Ryan and Thomas Lance had won the 2,000m tandem event - now discontinued - at the Antwerp Games of 1920, did the joy appear to be replaced by a quieter awareness of the magnitude of what he had achieved.

It was a mighty achievement too for the bike's original designer, Mike Burrows, who developed the prototype - using a revolutionary carbon-fibre monocoque frame - at his workshop in Norfolk 10 years ago and had the idea developed by Lotus this year after the cycling authorities had relaxed their regulations.

'Obviously it's a significant advantage or I wouldn't have used it,' Boardman said. 'It could have been the difference between gold and bronze.'

The individual pursuit, in which riders set off on opposite sides of the track and try to catch each other up over 16 laps of 250 metres, is not one of the world's gripping sports events. It is all about the clock, lacking the drama of the sprint pursuits or the road races. But the cameras and reporters were packed in yesterday, drawn by the fascination of seeing whether the highest of high technology could do what it was designed for.

The French are calling the new bike La Machine Infernale; what the Germans are now calling it is probably unprintable. Lehmann must have felt the Olympic title was his for the taking when he won last year's World Championships in Stuttgart in a time of 4min 25.775sec. But, after he was destroyed by a machine which will now be eagerly sought around the world, he was gallantry itself. 'It is the rider on the bike that makes the difference,' he said.

Certainly Boardman rode like a champion, even though he had not always felt like one. 'All day I was getting gradually more nervous, sometimes dealing with it well, sometimes not,' he said.

'I was almost physically sick at some points and I remember saying to a team-mate that I didn't want to be in this position again because it was so unpleasant. John Syer, our team psychologist, was enormously helpful. All through the race I had one phrase in my mind: 'Fight'. Whatever happened I couldn't have done any more.'

Boardman, whose only previous medals - all bronze - have come at the last two Commonwealth Games, is a bright, articulate and forthright character who has the nous to follow other top British amateurs such as Tony Doyle and Colin Sturgess on to the professional track and road racing circuits. He has the toughness, too, to operate in the world inhabited by such as his hero, Sean Kelly, whom he describes admiringly as possibly the hardest, bravest man he has ever seen.

That would necessarily entail a move to the Continent, however, which would disrupt his present lifestyle. He is not rich, but grants from the Sports Aid Federation and help with expenses from his club, GS Strada, allow him to run a small terraced house in Hoylake, where he lives with his wife and two children, Edward and Harriet, who were being looked after by his parents while their parents were away.

Clearly he will have to think carefully about his next move. 'I am the type of person who makes a lot of plans,' he said. 'But all my plans have led up to today.'

One immediate possibility is to direct his powerful little frame - he is 5ft 9in and 11st 5lb - towards an attempt on Francesco Moser's world hour record - 'I would think it is within my capability. Especially on a machine like this.'


Born: Clatterbridge, Wirral, 26 August, 1968.

Lives: Hoylake.

Height: 5ft 9in; Weight: 11st 5oz.

Occupation: Unemployed.

Event: 4,000m pursuit and team pursuit

Club: GS Strada Racing Team.

Major honours: National 25 and 50 miles champion; national pursuit champion; twice Commonwealth Games pursuit bronze medallist.