Italy’s golden run of sporting success continued at the Tokyo 2020 track cycling on Wednesday, while the British Olympic legend Jason Kenny looked off the pace in the early rounds of the men’s individual sprint.
In the only final of the day at the Izu Velodrome, Italy broke the men’s team pursuit world record to beat a stunned Denmark. The Danes had been highly favoured after winning the world title in 2020 and breaking the Olympic record in qualifying this week. But led by the road time trial world champion, Filippo Ganna – the son of a former Italian Olympic canoeist – the Italians held their own against Denmark before overcoming them in the last lap.
The teams were within three tenths of a second of each other after 1,000m and two tenths of a second at the halfway mark. The Italians then dropped almost a second over the penultimate kilometre, before storming home to beat the Danes by the smallest of margins. The Italians’ world record of 3min 42.032sec is more than eight seconds faster than the pace that won Great Britain gold in Rio five years ago (at the time a world record).
After Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph and dual gold medals on Sunday in the men’s 100m sprint and high jump, the team pursuit success continued a glorious summer for the country. In a scene that felt eerily reminiscent of pre-pandemic competition, Ganna lifted his bike into the air before a small Japanese crowd at the velodrome and pumped it with triumph. The applause that rang down was a reminder of what could have been for these unorthodox Games.
“We are so happy for this gold medal,” said Francesco Lamon. “This is a big, big gift for all the group because it’s been five years that we started working for this, so we are so happy. We have a beautiful, beautiful team like a family. So, for me and for us, it’s an honour to be part of this group.”
Australia beat New Zealand in the bronze medal race – a remarkable recovery after the Australians’ campaign in the team pursuit was derailed on Monday with a snapped handlebar sending Alex Porter flying to the ground.
In other action on day three, Kenny conceded he might not have the speed to be on the podium in the men’s individual sprint. Great Britain’s most successful Olympian after his team sprint silver medal on Tuesday was off the pace 24 hours later. He placed eighth overall in the flying 200m qualification phase, before only narrowly bettering Malaysia’s Mohd Azizulhasni Awang and local hopeful Yuta Wakimoto in the early rounds.
“I’ve been struggling a bit – really struggling recovering after yesterday,” said Kenny. “Obviously qualifying eighth puts you in the thick of it as well. I just felt like every ride was a final and rode it like my last.”
Kenny said that his teammate Jack Carlin was the more likely of the pair to progress to the final. “Jack’s really strong, he’s in a really good position,” said Kenny. “He’s definitely our best chance. Obviously the Dutch boys are fast – a little bit quicker – but I think Jack possibly has the edge in racing.
“From my point of view I just keep chipping away, playing a bit of a supporting role I suppose. Every person I knock out gets us one place closer to the podium.”
Carlin qualified third behind the Dutch pair Jeffrey Hoogland and Harrie Lavreysen. But the Scotsman was untroubled in the early rounds and will be a strong contender if he can continue his progress to the medal rounds on Thursday.
“So far, so good,” said Carlin. “It was nice to put a time on the board. I’ve kinda been showing signs in training that my flying stuff and my individual stuff has come on a little bit. It was nice to be finally able to show it – blow the cobwebs away today.”
The fallout from a rancorous day two of track action on Tuesday, which involved official complaints and a nasty crash, continued. In the team pursuit heats, the Danish rider Frederik Madsen brought down Britain’s Charlie Tanfield in the race that would determine which team progressed to the gold medal ride against Italy. Ultimately Denmark were awarded the win – and Britain relegated to the seventh against eighth ride, which they won.
On Wednesday Tanfield said that Madsen had apologised for the crash and his subsequent reaction (Madsen appeared to be yelling expletives at Tanfield, who was lying on the track, although the Dane later said he was expressing his frustration at the situation rather than his rival).
“He apologised to me,” said Tanfield. “Initially I didn’t really realise what he said or did – because I got straight back on the bike, because we still had a chance of winning – we didn’t really know.” Tanfield demurred when asked if Denmark should have progressed to the final but criticised Madsen’s behaviour. “I don’t know what the rules are saying, but I think it wasn’t very sportsmanlike. He apologised. I wasn’t very impressed by his behaviour, but he apologised – we moved on.”