Briton Emerges From Velodrome’s Chaos With a 5th Gold

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On the first day of track cycling, one of the Olympic diversions that the British now find most diverting, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish the faster from the slower, the triumphant from the thwarted.
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Olivia Harris/Reuters

Chris Hoy tied the British career record of 5 Olympic gold medals with a win in the team sprint.

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Jed Jacobsohn for The New York Times

Chris Hoy, left, Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes of Britain set a world record of 42.60 seconds while winning the gold medal in the team sprint. Hoy has won gold in three straight Olympics.

There were extended roars and extended boos in the Velodrome; relegations and gesticulations; world records that were a cruel hint of medals that never came and other records that were the perfect complement to gold.

There was awesome precision — wheels within mere inches of wheels at high speed on a steeply banked wooden track — and plenty of human error.

But when this sour-and-sweet opening session ended Thursday, the British and their prime minister, David Cameron, had at least one win to cheer in this boom box of an arena. It came in the men’s team sprint from Sir Chris Hoy and his two younger teammates, Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny.

The victory, which came against France in a world-record time of 42.60 seconds, gave Hoy his fifth career Olympic gold medal. That tied him for the British Olympic record with Steve Redgrave, the rower who won gold medals in five consecutive Games from 1984 to 2000.

“Honestly, to be mentioned in the same sentence with Steve Redgrave, you’ve got to pinch yourself really,” Hoy said. “Because I’ve watched him win all his five gold medals over the years, and I used to do a bit of rowing in school as well.”

“I think what he’s achieved will never be bettered in terms of five consecutive Games,” Hoy said. “You start to realize what it means when you actually break it down and see what you have to do and the number of things that can go wrong.”

Hoy, 36, who has won gold medals in three consecutive Olympics, is adamant that these Games are his last, and there were repeated reminders Thursday of all that can go awry with a medal at stake.

Hoy’s team had its own trouble in the qualifying round when Hindes, the lead rider, lost his balance shortly after the start, struggled to keep himself in the pedals and crashed to the wooden track. But Hindes and the British were granted a restart based on a rule that allows a restart “in the event of a mishap.”

What is unclear is whether Hindes’s fall truly met the spirit of the mishap rule. Hindes initially told reporters that he had fallen intentionally after getting off to a shaky start, but later, at a news conference, he said the fall had not been intentional.

“I just went out of the gate and just lost the control,” said Hindes, who holds dual British and German nationality and began representing Britain in 2010.

Given the reprieve, the British responded by qualifying and then breaking the world record for the first time in the next round in a victory over Japan in 42.747 seconds.

But some strong sprint teams did not get second chances, including the British twosome of Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Varnish.

There was no shortage of British luminaries — royal or commoner — in attendance at the Velodrome, which has been nicknamed the Pringle for the shape of its roof. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in the stands along with Princess Anne, a member of the International Olympic Committee, who presented the medals to the men.

But there would be no second British medal on opening day. Pendleton and Varnish broke the world record in qualifying, lost it almost immediately to the Chinese team of Gong Jingjie and Guo Shang and were then relegated to last place after the first round because of a changeover infraction.

When the decision was announced, the crowd of 6,000 jeered and Pendleton was soon crying. “I’m sorry for all the people who’ve come here who we’ve disappointed,” Pendleton said. “We were probably just a little too excited.”

There would be other reversals of fortune. In the gold medal final against Germany, Gong and Guo finished first in another world-record time and began celebrating, even giving interviews, only to discover that they had been relegated to second place for a changeover infraction of their own.

Earlier this year, at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia, there were similar relegations, and Enrico Carpani, a spokesman for the International Cycling Union, said that the team leaders had been reminded here that the changeover rules again would be strictly enforced.

“I realize it may be difficult to accept for the British public and for the Chinese, with two world records, but these were perfectly clear decisions,” Carpani said. “I have seen the video.”

The Chinese wanted to see the video, too. But despite a lengthy discussion with officials in which Gong, Guo and Chinese team leaders argued their case, the decision stood. The winners of the first women’s team sprint at the Olympics were instead Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel of Germany.

“There have been times in the past when we haven’t had much luck,” Welte said. “But tonight we got all the luck.”

Gong said she accepted the ruling. “We understand that in international races, there are all sorts of possibilities that can happen,” she said through an interpreter. “Now we face the reality, and we accept it. I think today’s events will probably be a motivating force for the races after today.”

Hoy already had achieved more than any other British track cyclist before these Games. He became interested in bicycles as a boy in Scotland after watching the cycling scenes in the film “E.T.” and, although he has never figured out how to make bicycles fly (see the movie), he has learned how to make them go very fast. He won his first gold medal in Athens in 2004, then won three in Beijing in 2008 and was knighted for his efforts.

He will not have the chance to win three more here. He was not selected for the individual sprint, losing his spot to Kenny. Hoy will race in only one more event in London, the keirin, where he will have a chance to surpass Redgrave.

But he said that Thursday’s victory, in which he was the final rider for Britain, gave him a rush the others had not.

“I always felt my win in Athens was the most memorable when I first became Olympic champion,” he said. “It was my lifetime ambition and to achieve that, I never thought I’d top that feeling. Until tonight.

“When I went across the line and heard the roar, I knew we’d done it. This is my most memorable gold medal of my whole career, and it’s great to give a little bit back to the crowd who have been so significant in all the British victories so far.”

The British, after a sluggish start, now have won five gold medals in their London Games and may well win more in the Velodrome. Pendleton, the individual sprint champion at the 2008 Games, has two more events. But Thursday’s race was Varnish’s only event here, and after four years’ preparation, she got the chance to race just twice around the track.

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