Australian Anna Meares can breathe a sigh of relief now that the two women who could have pushed her out of an Olympic Games berth were eliminated from the competition in the early rounds of the UCI Track World Championships on Friday.
Meares was afraid her dream of returning to the Olympic Games had vanished when she crashed at the Los Angeles World Cup and left the venue in a stretcher. The gold medallist in the 500m time trial in Athens, Meares suffered a fractured vertebrae, dislocated shoulder and other soft tissue injuries in a crash during the keirin in January.
She was forced to stay home from the World Championships in Manchester and watch as her berth for this year's Olympic Games was threatened in the women's sprint competition.
Only Russian Svetlana Grankowskaja and China's Lulu Zheng could have pushed the Australian far enough down in the UCI rankings to knock her off the list of qualifiers for Beijing, and Meares was up late into the Australian night watching the race action anxiously.
"I've been up all night – I couldn't sleep anyway so I thought I may as well sit up and watch and wait," Meares said. "'Grannie' [Svetlana Grankowskaja] rode a 10.2, and I thought 'she's on form and I'm in trouble', but then she got put out in the first round and I was thanking my lucky stars."
Grankowskaja was eliminated in the first round by German Christin Muche. Meares had to wait through two more heats before watching Zheng move onto the next round by eliminating Lyubov Shulika (Ukraine), and then endure the nervous wait for the next round to begin.
Zheng fell to her compatriot Shuang Guo in the second round, but could still advance to the finals in the consolation heat, but this did not come to pass. "After LuLu was beaten in the second round, I thought great that's one race down – and then in repechage (Christin) Muche was my favourite," Meares explained, "but then when they started riding two abreast pretty quick from the get go. I thought Yvonne (Hijgenaar) 'what are you doing?' I just wanted to close my eyes and not watch but watch at the same time. That last lap when Yvonne pulled out a little bit extra to hold off LuLu – I felt so happy."
Interviewed just after the end of the qualifying session, Meares was ecstatic after a tense evening. "I can't stop shaking!" she exclaimed. "Mark [her husband -ed.] stayed up for first round but he has to go work today so I'm going to go wake him up now and tell him. I held back from screaming but the tears have been flowing.
"It's been a really hard week, lack of sleep, stress to the point where my hair's falling out and I'm constantly in Manchester mentally thinking this is what they're doing at this minute, this is how we're preparing for this race...
"But now I can concentrate on preparing for the Olympics – it's fantastic news."
With reporting by Gennie Sheer