British track queen Vicky Pendleton put all the pain of her relegation from Thursday's women's team sprint behind her yesterday – as well as what she called a disastrous 2011 – with a blisteringly faultless ride to victory in the keirin here last night.
Theoretically on the back foot after she and GB team-mate Jess Varnish were kicked out of the team sprint for a faulty changeover, and following her uneven 2011 season, Pendleton was a woman on a double comeback mission yesterday.
But if Thursday's exclusion cost her at least a silver medal in one track discipline, then yesterday there was no way gold in the keirin was going to escape Pendleton on what is her Olympic track swansong.
Appropriately for a figure considered to be sprinting royalty, Pendleton clinched her first Olympic gold of London 2012 – and a second in the individual sprint, where she took gold in Beijing, is perhaps yet to come – in imperious style, leading from the front for the whole of the last lap in the final.
Only Guo Shuang, the Chinese former world champion, could come close as the Briton tore round the final bend towards the finish, but at the sight of her rival shadowing her on her right, Pendleton upped the pace yet further for her second Olympic gold in four years, winning by just over half a wheel. Hong Kong's Wai Lee took bronze.
Fighting back the tears, Pendleton said afterwards: "This is the greatest moment in my career so far. I think a lot of people kind of wrote me off after 2011. I had a really rubbish year. Injury, personal issues, family issues, a lot of things that just nearly made me give up. A lot of people thought I had passed my best and I just wanted to prove them wrong, so this does feel pretty good."
Discussing the team sprint relegation and how it had affected her when she and Varnish had delivered a world-record performance and had been in sight of a medal, Pendleton said: "All I did was take the fact that my form yesterday was excellent – I was by far the fastest second lap [in the team sprint] here.
"It was a personal best from me in both rides, so I knew my legs were the best they have ever been in my entire life, so how could I not come into this [keirin] and really give it a great shot. Because I owed it to myself to just get stuck in."
This was more than just a triumph after Thursday's potentially devastating setback, too. On paper this track discipline was Pendleton's weakest suit, given she had finished 12th in the 2012 World Championships keirin and last won the world title outright back in 2007.
But Anna Meares, her arch-rival from Australia, but who could only manage fifith in the finale, had predicted Pendleton was going "to be absolutely livid" following that team sprint expulsion and it was clearly a very effective motivator.
Between each of the first two rounds, taken with perfectly timed accelerations in the final laps, there was only the briefest of waves at the crowd acknowledgement of her victories, and certainly no trace of a smile. This was Pendleton at her most ruthless – and the result was a spellbinding series of triumphs that left her rivals with no options.
With two former and one reigning world champion in the final – Pendleton, Meares, Guo and France's Clara Sanchez – and so much to gain, the Briton had a battle royale on her hands. But her superb final acceleration in the last lap, taking the race by the scruff of the neck and then holding on despite Guo's late challenge, provided the ideal answer.
Then, at last came the smiles, the hugs with her coach and the Union Jack draped around Pendleton's shoulders. It was a victory and a double comeback of majestic proportions and with the individual sprint, which she has dominated for the last 10 years, still to come, Pendleton's Olympic swansong is back on track with a vengeance.
Velodrome: All the action and what's still to come
Disappointment followed by joy as the GB men win gold in team sprint, but the women are disqualified.
The British men's team smashed the world record in the pursuit, Victoria Pendleton powered to victory in the women's keirin.
Ed Clancy carries British hopes in the first ever Olympic men's omnium – it concludes tomorrow – and the women's team pursuit final is at 5.42pm.
Rivals Victoria Pendleton and Australia's Anna Meares meet again in the women's sprint heats.
The semi-finals and finals of the men's sprint get underway from 4pm, with Jason Kenny chosen instead of Sir Chris Hoy.
Hoy goes in search of a record sixth gold in the men's keirin, and the women's omnium finishes. The final of the women's sprint takes place at 5.26pm.Reuse content