So Dave Brailsford and the GB track team selection committee were right: Jason Kenny proved their decision to make the Bolton rider Britain’s sole match sprint participant - replacing defending Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy - 100 percent correct as the 24-year-old outpowered and outwitted top favourite Gregory Baugé in two straight rounds to net Britain’s fourth gold from seven track events. Australia’s Shane Perkins claimed bronze.
Ever since Kenny had been selected ahead of Sir Chris Hoy in June, the wisdom of the decision - forced on the British after the IOC decreed that only one athlete could represent the country at individual events - had naturally been scrutinised. Quite apart from depriving Hoy of a chance to repeat his historic triple Beijing gold on home soil, the Scot had had the better of Kenny in the 2008 Olympic sprint finals.
The pendulum swung first one way then the other between the Scot and the Englishman in the battle for London’s single place. Finally Kenny, 12 years Hoy’s junior, was selected after he defeated his GB team-mate in the Melbourne World Championships this April. And had Kenny lost, however, the questions over the wisdom decision would rushed back.
Instead as the British cycling gold medal juggernaut rolls remorselessly onwards, Kenny has now secured Britain’s ninth cycling medal of the 2012 Games, and their fifth gold out of seven track events so far. Add in Bradley Wiggins triumph from the men’s time trial, with three events remaining in which GB are firm favourites, Beijing’s once seemingly unbeatable total of eight cycling golds could well be passed tomorrow.
As if that was not enough, Kenny’s personal total of three golds and a silver makes him the eighth most successful British Olympian in history - and the first British male athlete to gain two medals in both the 2008 and 2012 Games.
And yet his quietly spoken, utterly laidback personality off the track, makes him almost successful by stealth. He certainly shuns the limelight, telling The Independent in 2008 that he liked it that “because Chris and Victoria Pendleton are so high-profile, my phone’s not falling off the wall.”. Meeting the famous is certainly not high on his list of priorities: in 2008, he blew out a collective Team GB appointment with then Premier Gordon Brown because he had had a cold and wanted to continue training. Even back then, though, Hoy had predicted that Kenny would be ‘the rider to beat in London.”
Kenny and Baugé have a huge shared history, given that Baugé has been three times World Champion since 2009, but had to hand his 2011 title to Kenny, three years his junior, after missing doping controls. On top of that, in 2008, Baugé defeated Kenny as part of the World Championships team sprint, before losing to Great Britain in the same event both four years ago - and again last Friday.
As if that were not enough, Baugé defeated Kenny in this year’s World Championships in two straight rounds, but only after the Briton was disqualified.
Since then Kenny has gained in strength, both winning the gold medal in the team sprint, then clocking the fastest qualifier. And as rival after rival either lost out to Kenny’s brutal accelerations or Baugé’s sustained long drives, it was clear that another showdown between the two top sprinters.
Kenny’s first round against the Frenchman saw Baugé leading from the front on the first lap, inching round. However despite taking the longest possible of sprints - over a lap and a half- the Frenchman could not prevent Kenny’s sustained charge seeing the the rider from Bolton hurtle past him on the back straight and take victory by over a wheel. Curiously enough, this was exactly the same way he had beaten Sir Chris Hoy in the semi-finals second round in Melbourne - the ride that effectively gained Kenny his ticket for London.
Round two was an different, with Kenny edging ahead and never letting Baugé - who swung left, right, sped up then eased back - get ahead. Pounding round the final lap, the huge grin as he churned the pedals one last time made it clear that Kenny knew he had taken another huge step into the Olympic history books. And at 24, there will surely be so much more to come.
Meanwhile Laura Trott is strongly positioned to claim Britain’s seventh track medal, lying first after three rounds. The Olympic gold medallist in the women’s team pursuit inched ahead - literally - in the opening leg of the Women’s Omnium, which she won by a thousandth of a second over France’s Clara Sanchez. However in the points race, close marking between herself and Australian favourite Annette Edmondson, who took silver behind the Briton in the 2012 World Championships, led to Trott to lose out America’s Sarah Hammer, another top contender. Whilst Hammer sped away from the pack to claim an extra lap, Trott was forced to settle for tenth, dropping to third overall.
In the elimination event, however, which Trott won in both the World Cup round in Stratford this February and again in Australia, the 20-year-old from Cheshunt delivered her usual ingenious tactics to clinch a superbly calculated victory that saw her back at the top rank of the overall classification. Lying just behind the leaders, sneaking through the tiniest of gaps at the back of the pack to avoid elimination, it was nerve-wracking, spell-binding stuff - and it could see her take gold tomorrow night.