'Just one of those things' – how the slightest of nudges ended Sarah Lee Wai-sze's Olympic medal hopes in her favourite event
A sanguine Sarah Lee preferred to focus on a shot at redemption in the sprint
“It was just one of those things.”
A slight nudge. Nothing malicious. Just one of those things.
But at some 60km/h, that slight touch, from Australian Anna Meares, was enough to send the handlebars on Sarah Lee Wai-sze’s bicycle flying, spinning her front wheel perpendicular to the direction of travel and sending Lee bouncing off the Siberian pine of the Olympic Velodrome track.
As the other five riders in the semi-final zoomed around the bend, a stunned Lee tried to drag herself to safety, aware that the bronze medal she won in this event four years ago in London would not be matched or bettered.
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Hong Kong’s best medal hope at the Rio Olympics knew she still had another chance of glory – and revenge against Meares – in the sprint, but this was her preferred event. At 29, she knows contending at one more Games is unlikely.
“That hurt,” said a depressed Lee, and you felt she was not just talking about the damage to her body, plenty of which she’s taken before. “But it’s fine, I just had some scratches.
“She hit me on my elbow with her hip and that’s how I crashed.”
Lee had just won the 7th to 12th place race for those who didn’t make it to the final, a sadistic exercise for all involved. She cruised through – if you can call an average speed of 63.12km/h cruising – as if to underline that she didn’t belong with the other five losers. Rather than the medal, her prize was one of the ‘Olympic diplomas’, a certificate given to top-8 finishers at the Games.
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Coach Shen Jinkang said she was in the form of her life coming to Rio after a brutal high-intensity training camp in Kunming, and imposed a media blackout to eliminate distractions for the one member of Team HK to whom everyone in the city’s travelling press pack wants to speak.
She stormed through her heat and looked well in control of the semi-final until five-time Olympic medallist Meares made contact. Oh, it’s now six-time Olympic medallist Meares – she went on to win bronze.
Race officials took their time examining the incident before deciding the 32-year-old was in the clear.
A senior member of one of cycling’s leading governing bodies – with no axe to grind one way or the other – was one of many people among the 5,000-odd present very surprised by that.
Not that a disqualification for Meares would have made any difference to Lee.
“I watched the video, and she actually was not in the red line,” said Lee, referring to the sprinter’s lane in which other riders are not allowed to enter unless they have a clear lead on its occupant.
“It’s a tough call. But if the referees said she didn’t violate the rules, then she didn’t.
“It wouldn’t make a difference even if I appealed. I have crashed and I wouldn’t make it [to the final].”
Had she made it, she’d likely have another Olympic medal; after all, those on the podium, Ellis Ligtlee of the Netherlands, Becky James of Great Britain and Meares, were Nos 16, 20 and 6 in the world rankings compared to Lee’s No 2.
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Meares, bronze around her neck, insisted she had nothing to apologise for, though she hadn’t spoken to Lee.
“Becky James came around the outside of me and at the same time there was a little movement from Wai-sze and it’s hard,” she said.
“When I came off the track I asked the question, ‘Was I in the wrong there?’ Because I felt her handlebar hit my leg and unfortunately when that happens the handlebars just go out from underneath you.
“If I was in the wrong I would wear that, absolutely, but it was deemed a racing incident and that’s all that I know.
“I haven’t seen Sarah yet, those sort of circumstances are hard for anyone to digest. I have great love and respect for Wai-sze Lee and you don’t want to see anyone go down like that.”
Just one of those things.
Silver medallist James was just happy to benefit. ”I was over the top and didn’t even look back,” she said.
“She’s a lovely girl and a great rider, I feel sorry for her. It’s always frustrating when you crash, but it’s just one of those things.”
Hong Kong team manager Johnny Chan Chung-yu had a copy of the same hymn sheet.
“The crash was just an accident, just one of those things. We can’t blame the Australian rider [Meares].”
For her part, Lee neither asked for nor accepted any sympathy.
“I have already calmed down. Don’t worry about me. I am okay. I just need to clean the wounds and get to sleep early.”
After all, it was just one of those things.