Sunday August 5th, 2012

LONDON -- How gracious and sporting of Great Britain to share the track cycling wealth! In a startling development from the velodrome, a gold medal was up for grabs tonight, and the Brits ... didn't grab it, as they had on four out of five previous occasions. Felicitations to Denmark's Lasse Norman Hansen, who overcame a spectacular, pinwheeling wipeout to win gold in the omnium, a strange and unnatural mash-up of six different events brought to you by the Union Cycliste International, whose unpopular overhaul of the track cycling schedule of events since the Beijing Games has failed achieve a different result: Great Britain still rules the velodrome.

Most days. Hansen hails from Faaborg, Denmark, a country with a total of three velodromes -- only one of them with a roof. After performing well in the flying lap (250 meters) and the 30km points race, the 20-year-old had a setback, finishing 12th of 18 riders in the "elimination race," a 40-lap rollick in which, every other lap, the last-place rider is eliminated. I much prefer the British name for it: "Devil Take the Hindmost."

Hansen rallied with a scorching performance in the 4km individual pursuit -- he finished first -- and was well-placed in the 60-lap scratch race, until he came swooping down the banked track and touched wheels with Ed Clancy of Great Britain. Hansen hit the deck hard, in the neighborhood of 30 mph, then went spinning toward the bottom of the track -- riders speeding past, barely missing him -- like a ball on a roulette wheel.

He was shaken, angry and abraded, "but this is a very tough kid," his coach, Caspar Jorgenson, told me. Missing wide swatches of both his skin and skinsuit, he remounted, rejoined the race, and finished an impressive sixth.

Knowing that Hansen was dangerous, Clancy recalled, "I was following him like a faithful dog." When the Dane swung down, he was expecting Clancy to take a pull on the front. But the Brit wasn't interested, "'cause it's up to those guys to get rid of me." As Clancy maneuvered to find Hansen's wheel, the two collided. According to the rules, a rider who's crashed has five laps to rejoin the race. Hansen rejoined in plenty of time. When he got back on the track, Clancy sought him out.

"I said I was sorry," he recalled. "He knows I didn't do it on purpose. He's a really nice guy and a damn good rider, and he deserved that win."

On the strength of a stunningly fast kilometer -- his 1:00.981 was only two-tenths of a second off the Olympic record in that event, set by his countryman Chris Hoy eight years ago -- Clancy locked down a bronze, his second medal in three nights. On Friday night Great Britain had used his singular burst to get them off to an excellent start in their gold-medal-winning ride in the team pursuit.

While his teammates hit the town hard, Clancy called it a night early: he had the omnium on Saturday morning. "Getting up the next morning when your teammates are lying in their beds, fully clothed, and you're walking past the carnage on the floor, going to a hard day's work at the omnium -- that was hard," he recalled.

Another trip to the podium, another bouquet, another medal -- regardless of the color -- made it worthwhile. And the Brits stand an excellent chance of returning to the top step tomorrow, when the Men With Giant Quads take center stage. The men's sprint finals are on tap, and Team GB's Jason Kenny is going like a freight train. Look for a rematch between him and Frenchman Gregory Bauge, who cruised through the prelimaries without appearing to break a sweat.

Who else might medal? Australia's Shane Perkins has been flying. I personally am pulling for Njisane Phillip, who hails from a country, Trinidad and Tobago, without a velodrome.

May the devil take the hindmost.

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