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Chris Hoy, having worked for four years towards his dream of an Olympic gold, on Friday had to sit beside the track of the Athens velodrome and watch as three of the four riders who went before him in the 1km time trial break the Olympic record.
Riding last of the 17 cyclists, the wait was the longest 10 minutes of Hoy's life, but among the most stunning in Olympic history. First Australia's Shane Kelly, then the German Stefan Nimke and finally Arnaud Tournant of France set, and then almost immediately had to relinquish, the Olympic record.
“I was more nervous than I have ever been before a race but it worked out well in the end,” said the 28-year-old Hoy after also smashing the record to become Olympic champion in front of an ecstatic crowd. Hoy, who won silver in Sydney in the team sprint, later admitted that previously he would have been distracted by the events going on around him. But on Friday he sat impassively, simply waiting his turn in a velodrome where conditions were perfect for fast times.
“This was something I expected,” said Hoy calmly, just minutes after collecting Britain's second gold medal of the Games. “I never thought I would be able to just go out there, do an average ride and win so I have worked on the psychological side of the race more than anything else.
“I knew I had the form but a couple of times in the past I have allowed myself to get distracted. It can be very off-putting knowing the times you have to chase. So today was about focusing on my ride and not worrying about anybody else's.”
But that was far easier said than done. Kelly, riding 13th, set the pace by breaking the record of 1min 01.609secs set by Britain's Jason Queally in Sydney. The Australian recorded a time of 1:01.224 only for Nimke to shave a further 38-hundredths off that time. It was then the turn of Tournant, the world record holder, who hared around the four laps in an electrifying 1:00.896.
But Hoy went through every stage of the time trial 250m, 500m and 750m ahead of the record and he finished in 1:00.711. The loud cheers from the large British contingent in the velodrome were the only way he had of knowing that he had struck gold. “I have always wanted to be up there,” he said of receiving his gold medal, “but when you are there it is beyond words. I don't think it will soak in for a few days.”
Most of the spectators who witnessed an evening of extraordinary cycling would probably share such a feeling. In the excitement of Hoy's epic win it was almost forgotten that his team-mate Bradley Wiggins had set the ball rolling by breaking the Olympic record for the men's individual pursuit in 4min 15.165secs.
The performance has guaranteed Wiggins at least a silver medal in the final on Saturday against Australia's Brad Mcgee. Furthermore, fellow Briton Rob Hayles has a chance of a bronze in a race-off against Spain's Sergi Escobar.
Meanwhile, the women's 500m time-trial was won by Australia's Anna Meares in a world record of 33.953secs.
Speaking before the men's 1km time trial began, Meares said: “I broke the Olympic but also the world record. I feel wonderful.”
One expects that that feeling does not quite match how Hoy felt when he crossed the finish line. He will be back on his bike on Saturday afternoon for the team sprint event. Ironically, one of his team-mates will be Queally, whose record was treated with such disdain on Friday night.
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