British sprinters Jason Kenny and Victoria Pendleton continued slowly but steadily to close in on their respective medal targets today, with Kenny now into tomorrow’s final rounds and Pendleton progressing to the quarter-finals.
Following Friday’s keirin gold and a day’s rest, Pendleton delivered a powerful early warning to her rivals that she plans to quit the sport on the highest note possible as she beat her own Olympic record in the 200 metre qualifying round by two tenths of a second.
Having gained the top seeding - and recorded the second fastest 200 metre lap in history - the defending Olympic sprint champion dispatched her first heat rival, Russian Ekaterina Gnidenko, with almost frightening ease.
In the second, Pendleton took on Holland’s Willy Kanis shadowing the Dutchwoman for two laps before a decisive burst of speed saw her through to the quarter-finals today. Kenny meanwhile, took just two rounds of a maximum of three to fend off Malaysia’s Azizulhasni Awang in the quarter-finals. In the first - fought just seconds after Andy Murrays’ gold was announced on the indoor TV screens - the 2008 Olympic silver medallist played a cat-and-mouse game with the Malaysian, who received a warning for his wild weaving across the boards as Kenny forged past.
In the second Kenny ducked through a fast-shrinking gap between Awang and the track’s lower edge in the last lap to claim a victory with a prolonged, steady acceleration.
The absolute top favourite, three times World Champ Gregory Baugé was equally successful, and assuming the two pass through the semis tomorrow the Frenchman will now take on Kenny - although he has to beat outsider Trinidad & Tobago’s Philip Nisjane in the semis, which could prove a thorny challenge given how well the surprise package of the sprints is racing - for gold later the same evening.
Kenny was beaten by Baugé in two straight rounds in Melbourne’s final at the World Championships, but the inside word is that after recording the fastest time in Saturday’s qualifier, the Bolton man may well have regained the upper hand at least on the physical side. Baugé, notably slower to recover between rounds, is strategically very strong and driven to take France’s first sprint gold since 1972. Whatever the result, a gripping evening’s cycling is on the cards.