Perfect timing: Sarah Lee’s Rio hopes back on track with victory in women’s sprint
Hong Kong rider’s effort at the International Track Series in Melbourne could not have come at a better time, just 43 days before the Olympics in Brazil kicks off
Sarah Lee Wai-sze’s winning performance in Australia sounded an early warning to rivals at the Rio Olympics after clinching the women’s sprint title at the International Track Series in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Competing in her first race after the World Championships in March, Lee defeated Australian Stephanie Morton 2-1 in the best-of-three race final at DISC Velodrome.
The victory is a welcome turnaround because it comes 43 days before the start of the Rio Games and is a relief for those who were worried about her form after her seventh placing in the sprint in London.
The Melbourne track is also valuable preparation as it is a similar shape to the track at the Olympic venue.
Another Australian rider Kaarle McCulloch, who lost to Lee in the semi-finals, came third.
Morton, along with compatriot Anna Meares, are among the favourites in the sprint events at the Rio Games in August although Australia will not finalise its squad until next month.
Leung Hung-tak, chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling Association, was pleased with Lee’s performance, saying the rider had approached the event very seriously.
“This is her last event before the Olympic Games and a victory will certainly bolster her confidence,” said Leung.
“Lee has been working extremely hard over the last couple of months in order to achieve a good result in Rio and we are eager to see her continue the winning feat.”
Lee, who won a bronze medal in the keirin at the London Games four years ago, will race in the same event in Melbourne on Thursday.
The five-day international series, which is a class one event under the International Cycling Union, will continue on the weekend, with another sprint race on Saturday and keirin on Sunday.
Coach Shen Jinkang said in Hong Kong before the team’s departure, the Australian track series would be Lee’s final build-up for Rio before returning to China for fine-tuning.
“We want to gauge her progress in Melbourne after an intensive training stint including altitude training in Yunnan,” the coach said of Lee.
“She has completed the most difficult part of her preparations and we want to find out if the hard work will pay off.”
Hong Kong men’s rider Leung Chun-wing, who is racing in the omnium in Melbourne, will leave for the track cycling test event in Rio as part of a fact-finding trip for his teammates.
Morton, the reigning Commonwealth Games champion, finished the fastest 200-metre qualifier of the sprint in a time of 10.793 seconds, while Lee was 0.14 second behind in second.
Meares, the sprint champion at the London Olympics, did not enter the race.