Athens 2004 - Track Events
Saturday 21st August 2004
What an evening of pursuitng! The Athens Velodrome continued to provide drama and records as the greatest pursuiters in the world vied against each other to qualify and then to book their places in the ride-offs for the medals. The World Record, set by Sarah Ulmer in May was broken by Kate Mactier (Australia) and, in response, by Ulmer herself.
The qualifying round was simply a test against the clock - the fastest 8 of 12 starters to go through to the first round. What a round it was.... Of the World Record performances, Mactier was up against Leontien Zijlaard van Moorsel first.
Whilst van Moorsel started slowly, Maciter rode a stunning 3000m to break the World Record which had only been set in May at the World's in Melbourne. Mactier's time was 3:29:945 - making her the first woman to beat 3minutes 30 seconds. van Morsel's time in that heat was 3:30.422 - enough in itself to beat Ulmer's May record of 3:30:604. There were some signs that Mactier may not yet have solved her problem of starting too fast and fading towards the end, as van Moorsel was clawing back on the gap opened in the early stages with each lap in the last kilometre.
Next up was Sarah Ulmer against Russia's Olga Slyusareva (who took bronze last Sunday in the women's road race. In an exciting ride, Ulmer nearly caught Slyusareva, who rode a respectable 3:35.177, to smash Mactier's World Record, which stood for just five minutes, by over 3 1.2seconds to set the new World Record at 3:26.400
There was other good news for Australia, as Kate Bates took on Britain's Emma Davies and qualified fourth fastest with a time of 3:31.236. Davies recorded 3:35.069. Both went through to the first round. Other qualifiers were : Elana Chalykh (Rus), Karin Theurig (SUI) and Olga Slyusereva (Rus).
Unlike qualifying, where times mattered this round was about beating the rider at the other side of the track. Having determined the order of rides and opponents via qualifying times, the competitors now were focussed only upon one ting - pursuiting their opponent. Fastest qualifier, Ulmer was up against slowest qualifier,
The first round was scheduled just one hour after the qualifying round, so there was on expectation that records would fall again. Also, since this was now 'just' a pursuit, the stronger riders could afford to reduce their effort slightly and bring in the win without giving their all. However, times would still matter for the round's winners in the selection for the gold - silver ride-off and the bronze ride-off, so they could not completely relax.
In the first heat, Kate Bates beat Elana Chalkyh with a time of 3:34.743. in the second heat, van Moorsel easily took the honours with a fast ride under the May record with 3:28.747. Mactier also went faster in her heat, against Emma Davies by recording a new personal best of 3:28.095. Whilst in the last heat, Ulmer slowed slightly to beat Slyusareva in 3:27.444.
Ulmer was the fastest winner in Round 1 and will meet Kate Mactier in the gold - silver ride-off, whilst van Moorsel takes on Kate Bates for the bronze.
Ride off times are Sunday 22nd at 17:40hrs, Athens time.
The Individual Pursuit is perhaps the purest race on the track - riders compete against the clock themselves and each other to gain victory.
This is the race where riders start at opposite side of the track and race for the fastest times. If they manage to catch their opponent, unless of course, it is one of the medal finals, the riders continue so that they can post their best possible time for that heat.
Track bikes with aerodynamic bars, disc wheels and, typically teardrop shaped, helmets are the order of the day. To shave even more time from their performances and to cut through the air even more smoothly, the riders will wear long-sleeved cycling skinsuits and will have lycra overshoes to smooth the flow of air over their feet.
The races today, Saturday, are the qualifying heats and the first round "proper" a couple of hours later. In the heats, pairs of riders will chase / pursue each other around the track looking for the lowest times. The fastest eight go through. Even if a rider is beaten, she may still qualify thanks to her ride time.
Favourites for this race must be defending Champion, Leontien Zijlaard van Moorsel and current World Record Holder and World Champion Sarah "I'm fizzing mate" Ulmer. Australia's Kate Mactier is only in her second season on the track and as a pursuiter and should figure in the medals. She took silver in Melbourne but showed that she still has work to do on her technique. She is known for starting fast and fading towards the end - if she has successfully worked on this in the past three months, she could be a force to be reckoned with.
World Record - Sarah Ulmer (NZ) 2004 - 03:30.60
Olympic Record - Leontien Zijlaard van Moorsel (NED) 2000 - 03:30.80
Zijlaard van Moorsel was a little disapointed to be riding against Kate
Bates for bronze, saying that "It will be my last race and I will
give it my all. It's a pity my opponent is Katherine BATES
(AUS). I know her really well, she is friend of mine". van
Moorsel will be retiring at the end of the season and so this is her last
ride at international level, There is no way she will want to go home
empty-handed from the track, having said on many occasions leading up to
Athens that she wanted to take home the gold in the pursuit. However, as
she pointed out, her preparation was broader than that of Ulmer and
Mactier - "I was a bit tired because the Individual Road Time
Trial was just three days ago. The other two girls who have qualified for
the final were only focused on this event."
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