Greatest Britain: Bradley Wiggins leads GB to pursuit gold and becomes his country’s most decorated Olympian

Bradley Wiggins slowly dismounted his track bike for the final time, basking in the cheers of an adoring crowd, and was greeted by two of the most decorated Olympians in British history. Not the most decorated, mind you

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 8:14am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 8:14am

Bradley Wiggins slowly dismounted his track bike for the final time, basking in the cheers of an adoring crowd, and was greeted by two of the most decorated Olympians in British history.

Not the most decorated, mind you.

That title now belongs solely to him.

Wiggins teamed with Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Owain Doull to beat Australia in record-setting time at the Rio Games on Friday night, winning gold in the team pursuit for the third consecutive time and giving the former Tour de France champion his eighth Olympic medal overall.

That breaks a tie with retired track cyclist Chris Hoy and gives Wiggins two more medals than retired rower Steve Redgrave, long considered Britain’s golden standard.

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“It was never about that for me,” Wiggins said, his new medal dangling from his neck. “They’re my heroes in Olympic sport, and just to be in the same breath as those guys is an honour, really.”

Britain stopped the clock in three minutes, 50.265 seconds to lower the world record they set in the semi-final round. That beat the Australian team of Alexander Edmondson, Jack Bobridge, Michael Hepburn and Sam Welsford, who finished in 3:51.008 to earn the silver medal.

“We knew going in we had a small chance,” Edmondson said. “We had to try.”

Denmark easily beat New Zealand to earn bronze.

Earlier in the night, the Chinese pair of Gong Jinjie and Zhong Tianshi won gold in the women’s team sprint, beating the Russian team of Daria Shmeleva and Anastasia Voinova in the finals.

China broke their own world record in the semi-finals, beating Spain with a time of 31.928 seconds, before knocking off the Russians to earn the nation’s first track cycling gold medal.

“We wanted to show the strength of the Chinese people,” said Gong, who won silver at the London Games. “Today we just wanted to achieve the best for ourselves – and conquer a world record.”

The German team of Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel, the reigning Olympic champions, beat the Australian pair of Anna Meares and Stephanie Morton to claim bronze.

“We started working for this medal four weeks after London 2012,” Welte said. “We had so many ups and downs. Last year was so hard. Now we’ve got something back, a medal.”

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After helping Britain win the team sprint Thursday, Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner squeaked past their opponents in the opening round of the individual sprint competition Friday night.

Kenny broke his own Olympic record in qualifying before edging Maximilian Levy of Germany in the first round, while Skinner led the whole way in beating Patrick Constable of Australia.

The competition continues through the semi-finals Saturday.

That was merely the undercard to the men’s team pursuit finals, though.

Wiggins largely retired from road cycling after winning the time trial at the London Games, seemingly content not only with his career in professional cycling but also the Olympics. Yet there was a persistent itch to get back on the track, one he couldn’t help but scratch.

The world hour-record holder soon dedicated himself to winning more gold in the event that first made him a star. He formed his own road team so that he could pick and choose specific events for his training, and spent long hours in the velodrome as the team perfected its technique.

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They were on point from the moment they began qualifying in Rio.

Britain easily set the fastest time in qualifying to earn a favourable draw in the semi-finals, then routed New Zealand by more than five seconds – an eternity over 4,000 meters.

Australia made things interesting in the final, building a lead of 0.695 seconds by the midway mark. But the British team kept their four riders together long while Australia dropped one, and they managed to slowly trim into the lead before pulling ahead at the 3500-metre mark.

“You’re so focused on what I’ve got to do in the race, you’re not really aware of what’s going on and how close it is,” Wiggins said, “I wasn’t worried about how close the Aussies were.”

Still, Wiggins and his teammates were so spent by the intense effort they hardly raised a fist to celebrate, instead coasting around the velodrome. Doull eventually grabbed a British flag and flew it high in the air, another victory in a sport his nation has come to dominate.

“This is something I’ll be proud of the rest of my life, and what Bradley’s done to win five (gold medals) is out of this world,” Doull said. “To have those guys who have been in these big fights before, these finals, and know they’re going to deliver time and again is really reassuring.”