Team GB maintain team sprint stranglehold by cycling to gold for third successive Games
- Rio Olympics 2016: All the latest news from the Games
- Jason Kenny, Philip Hindes and Callum Skinner beat New Zealand in final
- GB were victorious in the event in Beijing in 2008 and at London 2012
- It is a fourth Olympic gold in three Games for 28-year-old Kenny
- Cyclists' success represents Team GB's fourth gold and 15th medal in Rio
Not many gave this British sprint trio a chance in the velodrome here in Rio. Not even the riders themselves, judging by the reaction of Jason Kenny afterwards. 'Bizarre,' was how he put it. 'All a bit of a surprise.'
The bookies had them at 15-1, with four countries fancied ahead of them after their sixth-placed finish at the world championships in March suggested they were still struggling to fill the considerable void left by Sir Chris Hoy.
But Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner did something really quite extraordinary, breaking the Olympic record twice to beat New Zealand's world champions to what was Kenny's fourth Olympic gold medal with two more now likely to follow.
Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner stand on the podium sporting their bullion
A contemplative Hindes, and the more emotional Kenny and Skinner toast their success
The threesome now have seven Olympic gold medals - and counting - between them
Skinner looks slightly dazed as he absorbs what has just happened to him
The fact that the previous Olympic mark was set by Hoy in tandem with Kenny and Hindes four years ago was a further measure of just how impressive they were, and how much credit should go to 23-year-old Callum Skinner.
Skinner grew up in Hoy's shadow as a promising young Scottish sprinter until he was finally given the less than enviable task of trying to replace his idol as Team GB's man three; the final rider in the three-lap sprint to the line.
Five months ago he was being dismissed as a poor imitation of the great man, and the principal reason why Kenny would not be able to emulate Hoy in taking his gold medal tally to six with further victories in the individual sprint and the Kierin at these Games.
In London earlier this year Skinner seemed to be lacking the quality required. Quickest on paper after Hindes and Kenny had completed their laps as man one and man two, the British riders dropped to sixth come the end of Skinner's circuit of the track. Out of 14 riders on man three Skinner had ranked 10th, leaving them way behind the triumphant Kiwis.
Arms outstretched, Hindes savours winning his second team sprint Olympic gold
Skinner soaks up the adulation after his stunning last-lap ride secured gold
Hindes leads the way as GB's men's team sprint trio launch into their golden ride
Hindes, Kenny and Skinner maintained GB's hegemony over their sprinting rivals
But first came a change of strategy; a bigger gear for Hindes that meant he started slower, finished stronger but crucially did not pull away so fast as to drop Skinner at the start. 'It was about going fastest as a team rather than over the first lap,' explained Skinner afterwards.
And it worked, with Skinner's confidence growing to the point where he could fill Hoy's shoes. In the last month he started to fly, with the team recording some super-quick times at their pre-Games training camp in Newport.
Not that it was easy here. Quickest in the opening round with the first of their two Olympic records, they then saw New Zealand better their time in the first round proper, with the pressure now very much on.
But the British trio always have Kenny and having trailed after the opening lap this quite brilliant cyclist from Bolton propelled them into the lead, with Skinner then riding courageously to hold their position to the line in 42.440 seconds, 0.102 seconds head of their opponents. Crucially Skinner was quicker than his opposite number.
'Callum did have big shoes to fill but he handled the pressure well,' said Hindes. 'He's his own man and he rode his own race, and credit to him.'
GB's women's team pursuit quartet were in blistering form on their first Rio outing
A delighted Skinner said it was 'flattering' to be compared to Hoy. 'But I'm just out there to do my best and make a name for myself,' he said.
'We set an Olympic record in the final and beat the world champions. It was just incredible.'
It was touching to see Hoy – here working for the BBC – taking photographs of his old colleagues while they waved back from the podium.
'With the amount of pressure Callum was under, that was a great performance,' said Hoy, who then said he was 'tipped Jason for three golds' once he heard about the times in Newport.
Kenny maintained that the first victory was rather unexpected.
'We had a rough idea what we could do but we surpassed that in the first ride with the Olympic record,' he said.
It completed a perfect night for the British cyclists after the disappointment on Rio's roads. They were very much back on track, with the women's team pursuit squad setting a new world record in qualifying and the men's pursuit quartet almost breaking theirs to also qualify fastest. The competition will be stiff but two more golds could well now follow.
Controversy has too often been British Cycling's companion these past few months and even in this first session there appeared to be a bizarre incident involving Sir Bradley Wiggins and some race officials. Wiggins appeared to give them the 'double bird' when officials demanded that he have his height checked to make sure his bike complied with regulations. He also left the velodrome alone, apparently in something of a strop. Mark Cavendish did say he was 'super stressed'.
But reports last month of super-fast times in Newport suggested the riders were coming into form on cue and here in their opening qualifying ride Laura Trott, Joanna Roswell-Shand, Elinor Barker and Katie Archibald delivered.
An American team sporting bikes with chainsets positioned on the left-hand side will still take some beating, given they were only a second adrift after actually going out quicker than Team GB.
The sight, however, of the British quartet bettering the world best mark of Australia, and lowering the record to 4.13.260, not only lifted British spirits but demonstrated that this track is not half as slow as many feared.
It will be some story if the British women do succeed when earlier this year their preparation was disrupted by serious knee and elbow injuries sustained by Katie Archibald in a motorcycle accident that left her own team-mates less than impressed.
The British men's team pursuit foursome added to a feelgood factor enveloping the team
Sir Bradley Wiggins was involved in an exchange with race officials before getting to work
In the Scottish's rider's absence the pursuit squad encountered problems in the world championships London, even with Trott in scintillating form.
In qualifying they were ranked a disappointing fifth, only to then recover from that particular setback to finish with a bronze in a time that was good enough to win the gold medal race.
In London they covered the 4kms in 4.16.540. Here, with Archibald back, they were significantly faster and they now meet Canada in the first round on Saturday before a probable final with the Americans later in the day.
This was a big moment for this elite Olympic squad; a day of judgement after what has been a difficult few months for the governing body as well as the riders and their coaches.
They lost their leader, and for many their mentor, when Shane Sutton resigned amid a storm of controversy in April. And they faced some difficult questions about the culture inside their Manchester headquarters.
At the same time Tony Purnell and his team of engineers were frantically developing a state-of-the-art new bike – and overcoming a few problems along the way - as well as kit designed to make the British riders go as rapidly as possible.
Everything seemed to be working well even if some of the British riders – Hindes among them - have opted to use the bikes they road in London rather than the new Cervelo racing machines that, Sportsmail revealed, had endured some production issues.
The reports from inside the camp had been encouraging, not least with unofficial world records apparently being set in Newport.
The pursuit men set one for sure and to ride as well as they did should at least settle Wiggins' nerves, their time of 3.51.943 within 0.3 of a second off the world record they set to win gold in London and significantly quicker than second-placed Denmark. They now meet New Zealand in the first round on Friday, although Australia probably remain their most dangerous opponents.
Nobody could stop the British sprinters though, with Skinner perhaps the toast of the team.
Kenny may well now will enter the territory of the British Olympic legend occupied by Hoy. But without Skinner he would not have a fourth.
Given where he was only a few months ago, given the stature of the man he had to replace, the kid deserves more than a medal for that.
Kenny is destined to be bracketed with the Olympic greats after landing his fourth gold
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