Becky James had to be content with silver in the women’s sprint on the track here in Rio on Tuesday as she was just unable to fuel the Great Britain party in the way she would have wanted in the velodrome.
Team GB’s cycling dominance has been amazing and James, 24, followed hot on the wheels of Laura Trott who sealed gold in the omnium. However, it was not to be a golden moment for the Welshwoman who was beaten 2-0 by the former world champion Germany’s Kristina Vogel in the final in front of hundreds of flag-waving Brits.
James, from Abergavenny, lost the first heat to the 25-year-old by the narrowest of margins. After the toying over the first two laps both sprinters made a break for it and the German overtook James and seemed to be set for a comfortable win. But James fought back only to lose by 0.016 seconds, or half a wheel.
In the second race, the German led out and James left a gap. With a lap to go Vogel floored it and despite James’ best efforts she was unable to fight back and Vogel held out to win by another slim margin.
In the semi-final James blew away her heavyweight Dutch rival Elis Ligtlee beating her 2-0. James was drawn to lead the way in the first match-up and after a couple of laps of cat and mouse pulled away with a lap to go to leave her opponent floundering.
In the second heat she took her time, went high on the sloping track and – again with a lap to go – picked her moment to attack Ligtlee who was powerless. It was sweet revenge for James who lost the keirin final to the Dutchwoman on Sunday.
James’ team-mate Katy Marchant was in the other semi-final but was unable to make a dent on Vogel and lost 2-0. She did, though, win a medal when she beat Ligtlee in the bronze medal race off 2-0, winning the first race with ease, the second by 0.06sec.
Vogel had earlier questioned Britain’s recent dominance on the track, which will make victory all the harder to swallow for Team GB, telling the German agency DPA: “They were cannon fodder when you look at the last few years. Now they come along with a [high] level. I don’t want to accuse anyone of anything but it is all very questionable.”
James, who won world sprint and keirin gold in 2013, missed out on the London Olympics when she just failed to get selected.
“There were tears and she wanted to shoot me,” Shane Sutton, then head coach of British cycling, would say, “but we felt it was important she cracked on with her training.” James admitted the decision was painful. “It hurt. It was one of the hardest times I went through,” she said.
This will hurt too but she can be proud of her efforts.
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