Pendleton, the retiring fairy queen, conjures some magic
Sporting domination is an unusual feeling in Britain – and a fervent crowd lap it up
Here come the girls. It was a reference to the emphatic success earlier in the day of Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins in the double sculls, which, said Victoria Pendleton, was such an inspiration for her own. The men's quartet had earlier smashed the world record already in their possession to repeat the team pursuit gold they won in Beijing. They won't mind Pendleton's indulgence. They are a polite lot. And besides, this was always going to be Pendleton's moment, the night everything came together for the retiring fairy queen of British sport.
Pendleton is a complex character. The vast emotional swirl that envelops her delicate psyche was charted in a forensic documentary broadcast on the eve of these Games, a potent brew that left us wondering in what state she might turn up after the misfortune of disqualification in the team sprint the evening before. With the lens turned inward and her flaws exposed it is easy to forget that Pendleton is also a formidable athlete, and it was this version of herself that she brought to the piece to leave her own significant stamp on British sport.
With victory in the keirin she became the first British woman to win individual gold in successive games. And the manner of her triumph was worthy of the distinction, rising out of her saddle on the penultimate lap to pulverise her great rival Anna Meares . The spin cycle of conflicting feelings that she has experienced in the past 24 hours only confirmed the sanity of her decision to quit the sport after the defence of her women's sprint title next Tuesday.
"After losing out in the team sprint I went outside and had a little cuddle of my baby cousin Nathan. He is 10 weeks old, so that put it a little bit into perspective. When he is older I will tell him he made everything seem all right.
"No second thoughts on retiring, not in a million years. It is not going to be a Redgrave situation where he jumped back in that boat. I'm going to be riding my bike to keep fit and that is it. It means a lot to be alongside the other great British women medal winners. It has not sunk in that I could be mentioned in the same breath as Kelly [Holmes] and Rebecca [Adlington]. That will take a while. Maybe I can look back in a couple of years and say, yeah, well done Vick."
Of that she can be certain. In what is fast becoming a house of pain for others more world records fell to Britain, topped by a double dose of gold bullion. Wave after wave of bacchanal noise bounced off the velodrome walls as the Anglocentric audience engaged in celebrations that can only be described as primal.
And why not? British hegemony in any sport does not come our way that often. We await the investiture of the women's pursuit team, who race in the final today after smashing their own world record by almost four seconds in qualifying.
After the she-gods Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell came the four leviathans in lycra, Edward Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh. In this discipline Britain are racing only against the clock since the opposition seem to recognise the futility of raising sweat.
Australia were effectively walking the plank, despite the guarantee of silver. With each lacerating lap the British quartet chopped the Australians to tiny pieces. The velodrome was suddenly a scene from ancient Rome, a cauldron of febrile blood lust. And leading the applause was none other than British Cycling's performance director Dave Brailsford, who celebrated yet another world record triumph with a bicep flex redolent of Conan the Barbarian.
Pendleton was transported back to Beijing where she endured something similar before facing Meares in the final of the women's sprint. All around the gold was flowing for Britain, while she had still to go. As the medal ceremony proceeded, Pendleton pedalled her blood sugars back to optimum levels with her back to the pageant. Meares was an inert mass of focus, rising from her chair only to respect the national anthem of the host nation. Pendleton recognised the same by sitting up on her bike. We shall excuse her on this occasion.
The success of British cycling has even penetrated the prime minister's inner sanctum. Advised that any toxic remnants from the men's team sprint gold had been boxed by officialdom, David Cameron was straight round to Team GB house yesterday to revel in Sir Chris Hoy's fifth gold medal. The adhesion of politicians to sporting success is the equivalent of holding a baby on the hustings during a general election campaign.
Media advisers assume such episodes to be pleasantly persuasive, connecting the elite to masses through the shared experience; a Call Me Dave moment in the Olympic Park. He should have been there last night when a rather more plausible man of the people was unveiled before his constituents.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause to Bradley Wiggins," was the call. And there he stood in all his hirsute glory, the Belgian-born, Cockney Wiganer in jeans, plain white T-shirt and cardie.
The British and Australian team bays were stationed on opposite sides of the track. Between Pendleton and Meares a cycling souk of activity; bikes, mechanics, physios, gurus working their alchemy. There was not a chance they could have spotted each other across the throng but they sensed each other's presence sure enough. And then they were called to the line. The atmosphere was white hot. As the laps ticked by, the wall of noise rose. Meares hit the front the moment the pace bike retreated. How would Pendleton respond? Had Meares gone too early?
The answer was emphatic. Meares melted away in the frenzy of the attack. It was China's Shuang Guo who raced her home. Pendleton would not be caught. Not on this night, in this house, in front of this crowd.
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