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Britain wins second straight men's team pursuit Olympic gold in world-record time

08/03/2012 02:07 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - Geraint Thomas, Edward Clancy and the rest of the British men's Olympic pursuit team spent most of last month tuning into daily coverage of the Tour de France, cheering on their former teammate Bradley Wiggins to the yellow jersey.

Turns out Wiggins' victory gave them a little motivation.

Along with newcomers Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh, the new-look British pursuit team tore over the pine wood surface of the London Velodrome on Friday to win its second straight Olympic gold medal, shattering their own world record and beating the rival Australians in the process.

"Seeing your fellow Brits do so well, it inspires you," Thomas said, "and you want a piece of that."

The winning time of 3 minutes, 51.659 seconds, lowered the mark of 3:52.499 that Britain set in the qualifying round. It also made the home nation the first to defend an Olympic team pursuit title since West Germany in 1976.

The Australian team of Jack Bobridge, Glenn O'Shea, Rohan Dennis and Michael Hepburn finished in 3:54.581 to win the silver medal, and New Zealand beat Russia for the bronze.

"For the past four years, we've had one goal in mind and that's to come here and stand on top of the podium," Bobridge said. "You can't be disappointed when someone does a world record."

The British team was carried along by a raucous crowd that included basketball star Kobe Bryant. Wiggins was also on hand, roaring his approval with the rest of the 6,000 fans jammed under the roof.

"Phenomenal," said Wiggins, part of the gold medal-winning pursuit team in Beijing. "They definitely don't need me anymore."

The team pursuit, in which teams of four race over 4 kilometres in an aerodynamic formation, started on Thursday, when the British team established a new world record. The time was nearly three seconds faster than Australia and more than five seconds better than New Zealand.

"All we've done here is state our intent," British coach Dan Hunt said afterward.

Hunt knew they could go even faster.

The four-man team posted a time of 3:52.743 in its heat race Friday — for most of the final lap it appeared it would set another world record. That earned Britain the opportunity to race for gold against Australia, which advanced to the final with a time of 3:54.317 in its heat.

In the final, the British team led by three-tenths of a second after the first 1,000 metres, and more than half a second by the midway point, the blur of its blue uniforms moving effortlessly from the front to the back to keep fresh legs pulling the foursome along.

The team crossed the finish line together to a thunderous ovation.

"This is what this year was about," said Thomas, who struggled with a bout of food poisoning leading up to the Olympics. "These boys were just incredible, and it's all worthwhile now."

"It's a day I'll never forget," Burke said, "with that atmosphere."

Thomas and Clancy have been around for a while, joining with a variety of teammates over the years to win three world championships. But the newcomers Kennaugh and Burke showed they had every bit the mettle of Wiggins and the retired Paul Manning to win Olympic gold.

Kennaugh in particular was cheered on by road cyclist Mark Cavendish, who was perched above the track doing TV commentary. The two riders are both from the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland, which has a population of only about 85,000.

After a slow start to the London Games, the British cycling team has done just about everything possible to help the host nation climb the medal table.

Elizabeth Armitstead won silver in the road race last weekend, and Wiggins took time trial gold on Wednesday, before the trio of Chris Hoy, Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny opened the track program Thursday by winning the team sprint with a new world record.

Victoria Pendleton added to the gold rush in the women's keirin.

With the velodrome still buzzing over the pursuit team's gold medal, Pendleton charged to the front in the mass start event, and then held off Guo Shuang of China by less than the length of a wheel in a sprint to the finish line. Guo took silver and Lee Wai Sze of Hong Kong won bronze.

"This is by far the most important victory of my life," Pendleton said. "I had a really rubbish year — injuries, personal-life issues that nearly made me give up. A lot of people thought that I had passed my best and I just wanted to prove them wrong. This does feel pretty good."

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