Cycling salutes King Kenny – Britain's new lord of the track
Jason Kenny justifies selection over Chris Hoy to win his second gold of the Games – and Team GB's fifth in the velodrome
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Tuesday 07 August 2012
Of all Team GB's galaxy of cycling demigods, Jason Kenny was always going to have the hardest task. After taking the place of the knight of the realm and national treasure Sir Chris Hoy in the individual sprint, nothing less than gold in London was acceptable.
And so it was. In the most emphatic fashion. Pursued by that trademark roar from the home crowd that has powered Britain's riders to glory in the Olympic Park's velodrome, the 24-year-old from Bolton last night dominated his great French rival, Gregory Baugé, to take the great prize: the men's sprint.
Team GB now has five golds and one bronze in track cycling. If they were a country, they would be 10th in the Olympic medals table – ahead of Germany and Russia.
Kenny, who won gold with Sir Chris in the four-strong men's pursuit team last week with a world record, outsmarted Baugé in two fiercely tactical and physical races, winning with one of the three contests to spare.
Speaking moments after his remarkable victory over a rider he has previously struggled to outclass, the Briton said: "It's amazing. I hadn't even thought about it until the last round and it dawned on me. I did it for the team. We were really close and he's been faster at the Worlds [championships]. I like racing against Baugé."
Kenny, who took silver behind Hoy in the sprint event in Beijing, was selected to replace Britain's most successful Olympian by the grey eminences of Team GB's track cycling team, Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton, after a change to Olympic rules meant that only one rider per nation could be entered in the event.
Kenny was picked on the basis of his form in training and his performance in the cycling world championships, despite being beaten by his nemesis, Baugé, whose technical proficiency means that he is known in his homeland as L'Automaton Fantastique.
Last night, there was no bitterness from Hoy, who broke his self-imposed Twitter purdah to congratulate his teammate. He tweeted: "I know I said I was off Twitter but that was PHENOMENAL by Jason Kenny. So happy and proud of him, well deserved mate."
Speaking before the race, Kenny's father, Michael, said: "It's going to be so tense for the whole family. We never get used to situations like these and it's probably more nerve-racking for us. He never discusses where he might finish and I don't want to make predictions either."
He need not have worried.
Kenny took the first race of the final in a tense battle of cat and mouse, riding the steep banks of the velodrome before sweeping down alongside the Frenchman to take the race by roughly the width of his eventual gold medal. The Briton then rode to victory in the second race, breaking into a sprint with a lap to go which Baugé simply could not better.
Earlier, Victoria Pendleton, on her penultimate appearance in competitive racing, dominated her quarter final in the women's sprint against Belarusian Olga Panarina, en route to a showdown with her great Australian rival, Anna Meares.
Pendleton, 31, who is retiring after the London Games, was in imperious form, sweeping past her opponent in the first two of the three-race contest. She races in the semi-final – and a likely final – today.
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