LONDON (AFP) — Australia’s Anna Meares beat British rival Victoria Pendleton to win the women’s Olympic sprint title at the London velodrome on Tuesday.
China’s Guo Shuang took the bronze after beating Kristina Vogel of Germany.
Pendleton, racing for the last time in what has been a hugely successful career, had been expected to beat her arch rival after showing stunning form on the way to the final. However, the 31-year-old Englishwoman’s nerve seemed to go after officials relegated her in the first race of the best two-out-of-three final, which she won on a photo finish, for having come out of her sprint lane.
“These things happen, that’s sport,” said Pendleton. “It wouldn’t be so exciting unless there were a few incidents like that.”
The pair got up for the second race, but after Pendleton took the race by the scruff of the neck, following a brief trackstand, she had no response when Meares put in a big turn of pace on the back home straight.
The Australian, 29, won with relative ease at the finish where she pumped the air in joy.
“Victoria’s such a hard-fought opponent and she’s dominated the sport for so long,” said Meares. It’s been such a difficult challenge and to be able to win the Olympic title for me, it’s so special. I’ve tried so much and worked so hard for a long period of time and I’ve asked a lot of people around me to do the same so it feels like this is a just reward.”
It is her second Olympic title, but first in the sprint, having finished behind Pendleton in 2008. Meares won the 500m time trial gold at the Athens Games in 2004.
“She’s been that target, that goal that I’ve been working towards over the past four years,” said Meares. “She’s a great champion. I wanted the opportunity to be the best and I think to be the best I needed to beat Vicky.
“When we were lining up for the medal ceremony she gave me a hug, said that I deserved it and that I was a great champion and I just broke into tears.”
Pendleton carried heavy British hopes into her final Olympics, entering as a favorite for three sprint golds.
“The last four years have been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m so pleased it’s over. I can go and do something different,” she said.
“I’m relieved it’s all over, I’m so relieved. It (silver) is one off the perfect result for me. To get a DQ and relegated in one championships is also a new personal best. Anna was wonderful. She did a fantastic job. She deserved it today. We have met each other on numerous occasions. When you meet a rider of that caliber, it’s always going to go either way.”
Meares fought back over the weekend after a bitter disappointment in the keirin on Friday.
“I’ve never felt as much a failure as I did after that race and the burden and weight of expectation was a little bit much. It was a big battle to keep my head on for the sprint but my coach asked me to fight, and I fought,” she said. “I think that a lot of people back home in Australia were disappointed and that felt heavy on me.”
But for those disappointed in Friday’s keirin, Meares said Tuesday’s match sprint gold was as much for them as for herself.
“I wanted to do it as much for myself as I did for my team and my country tonight,” she said. “This isn’t just a victory for me, it’s taken our sport to an audience that probably wouldn’t have seen it before.”