Following the drama that has headlined each session of the Tokyo 2020 track cycling, it was perhaps inevitable that Australia’s bronze medal clash with New Zealand in the men’s team pursuit on Wednesday would contain more of the same. Only this time it was Australia – who had missed out on the opportunity to challenge for gold when Alex Porter crashed in qualifying on Monday following a freak handlebar failure – who remained upright.
After the Antipodean nations passed the halfway mark of the 4,000m race neck and neck – five one-hundredths of a second separated them – Kiwi rider Aaron Gate unexpectedly found himself on the velodrome boards. The crash dashed New Zealand’s hopes of defeating their more-fancied rivals, with the Australians soon ending the encounter by catching the Kiwis.
“You never want to win a bike race that way,” said Porter, who watched from the sidelines nursing his injuries as his teammates won bronze. “I’m sure these boys are feeling the same – you can see that in their reactions. But it’s a part of bike racing – we got dealt a pretty rough hand on day one. It’s not a nice way to win, but it’s just a part of the sport.”
Porter said that after the turmoil of the past two days, he felt his teammates were riding for him on the Izu Velodrome. “This is the first time I’ve watched the team pursuit and felt like I was 100% out there on the track. They’ve had my back the whole way through this process and I was just so pleased that they were able to go out there and have the chance to show everyone what they’re capable of.”
The 25-year-old remained visibly injured following his crash on Monday at 65km per hour, with bandages on his arms and nose, but insisted that he would be back to full health soon. “Just banged up – lost skin everywhere – a bit bruised but I’ll be fine,” Porter said.
Australia’s Sam Welsford, who won silver in Rio and is a two-time world champion in the team pursuit, said that after the adversity of the crash, his bronze medal at Tokyo felt particularly special. “After the rough start we had, we went out today [with the attitude that] if we get a medal that’s almost worth gold for us. It’s not the colour we wanted, but for us to be on the podium today after what we’ve been through, it’s just as special.”
Fellow team member Kelland O’Brien said the squad would soon turn their minds to the Paris 2024 Olympics. “It’s been a crazy few days for us and an even more hectic five years – we’ve been through a lot together,” he said. “After this week we’ll reset and start thinking about Paris and beyond.”
Australia’s hopes in the in the men’s individual sprint ended in the preliminary rounds earlier on Wednesday with both Nathan Hart and Matthew Richardson failing to progress. The team’s fastest sprinter, Matthew Glaetzer, withdrew from the event citing illness, after the trio had finished fourth on Wednesday in the team sprint.
But Kaarle McCulloch returned to the Olympic velodrome nine years after her last outing at London 2012, progressing through to the quarter-finals in the women’s keirin. McCulloch and her long-time sprint partner Steph Morton had been considered favourites in the women’s team sprint, but Morton retired last year after Tokyo 2020 was postponed. That left McCulloch to seek glory in the keirin discipline.
The veteran had a slow start on Wednesday, failing to progress from the first-round, before making her way through the repechage round. “The first race I was a little bit nervous – I didn’t really execute to my strategy at all,” said McCulloch. “But the second race I definitely nailed it.”
If the 33-year-old can win her way through the rounds to come, she will contest the medal race on Thursday evening. “I feel much more composed now,” she said. “I think my strategy is on point and I think that I’ve got a good chance.”
The team pursuit bronze for Australia has been a rare highlight in an otherwise underwhelming start to the Tokyo 2020 track competition. But McCulloch insisted that the team remained upbeat. “It’s pretty positive,” she said. “Everything that everyone has been through– collectively across the whole world over the past year – any sort of chip in the road, you just take it on the chin and keep going. Matty [Glaetzer] is going to come out for the keirin – he’s the keirin man here and I really believe in him.”
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