Friday August 3rd, 2012

Takeaways from night one at the Pringle, the gleaming new potato-chip-configured velodrome that celebrated its grand opening Thursday evening:

-- With its wider-than-normal banked curves catapulting riders into shorter-than-usual straightaways, this 250-meter track, pieced together with 56 kilometers of Siberian pine, is lightning quick. Thursday's events came to a raucous crescendo with the British trio of Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy taking gold in the men's team sprint by obliterating the world record they'd set earlier in the semi-final.

-- Nowhere is Team GB's home field advantage more pronounced than in the Pringle. The scoreboard's instructions to the crowd of 6,000 to "make noise" proved entirely superfluous. There's something about watching three of your countrymen rocket around a track in the neighborhood of 45 miles per hour, under world record pace, that gets people out of their seats. "When I crossed the line and heard the roar," said Hoy in his pleasing Scottish burr, "I didn't have to look at the scoreboard."

-- These velodrome officials are strict. Team GB had a line on a second medal in the women's team sprint, but after setting a world record in their first ride of the night, Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Varnish were disqualified for an improper changover in the semifinal. The second rider must overtake the first within a defined area. In this case, Varnish peeled off early, and the change took place outside the box -- track cycling's equivalent of a muffed baton exchange. It wasn't egregious -- less than a wheel length -- and you could see British Cycling director David Brailsford pleading his case with the stern-looking commissaire, an unsmiling fellow of ascetic aspect who looked like an actuary, or a vice-principal. He was deaf to Brailsford's politicking, and the Brits were bounced, plunging them from at least silver to nada.

"Now and again rubbish things happen," Pendleton told the BBC, "and this is one of those days." At least she's still got two events to ride. Poor Varnish is finished.

She's disappointed and angry, said one Dan Rush, a coach for British Cycling.

"She'll deal with it, but it's a s*** situation. Ultimately, it's a legitimate call."

The same thing happened in the final. After eclipsing the Brits' world record with their first ride, the dominant Chinese pair of Jinjie Gong and Shuang Guo appeared to crush the German team in the final. But, they too, had a changeover problem -- this one much tougher to discern with the naked eye. Next thing you know, the Chinese women looked shocked, and angry, and the German pair of Mirian Welte and Kristina Vogel were jumping for joy.

One of interesting traits of the superfast, aero-bikes these athletes ride is that they have no brakes and only one, fixed gear -- which did not prevent the German women from backing onto the top spot of the podium. "This is a rule the UCI" -- cycling's governing body -- "needs to have a look at," Hunt went on. "Germany was the third [best] team here, and they walked away with a gold medal."

The relegation of Pendleton and Varnish, and the loss of a certain medal, took only a few decibels off the evening's main message. After taking seven of a possible ten gold medals at the Laoshan Velodrome in Beijing, the Brits look poised to dominate the Pringle. Between the qualifiers and finals of the men's and women's team sprint, the British quartet of Steven Burke, Ed Clancy, Pete Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas scorched the boards in a qualifying for the Team Pursuit. Their time of three minutes, 52.499 seconds in the 16-lap event broke their own world record by nearly a second.

Blaring over the PA system after Hoy & Co. won gold with a world record of their own: Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back".

The home team will be prohibitive favorites in tomorrow's Team Pursuit final. Nice thing about the team pursuit: no changeovers.

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