The USA team failed to topple the dominant Great Britain quartet in the women’s team pursuit final at the Rio Olympics but left the velodrome with their heads held high on Saturday night after taking the silver medal and setting a new world record as they defeated Australia in the first round ride.
Third time Olympian Sarah Hammer anchored the USA quartet, with Kelly Catlin, Chloe Dygert and Jennifer Valente confirming their world title performance from last March. The USA set a new world record of 4:12.282 when they beat Australia to make it to the final, then moments later that record fell again as Great Britain beat Canada in their round one heat with a time of 4:12.152. It made for an intense final.
The USA went out strong to lead the race in the early phase with Sarah Hammer doing a huge turn. However, Britain took the lead for the first time at the halfway point, gaining over a second ahead of the US team. The US lost Catlin in the final kilometre as Great Britain picked up another second and even though they lost a rider with a lap to go, they continued strong through the final lap to break their own world record with a time of 4:10.236 and win the gold medal. Canada took the bronze medal after beating New Zealand in the ride for third and fourth place.
“I’m still so proud of the team and what we accomplished. We wanted gold, but you know what, we went out there and rode our bikes,” Hammer said after collecting her medal.
“I feel like we’re kind of like the little team that could going against the big ole’ machine of Great Britain… you can still go for it and try to win. That’s what we tried to do and we came up short today but it was a heck of a ride.”
Coach Andy Sparks has been the key to rebuilding the women’s team pursuit squad. He accepted defeat and praised the USA quartet for giving their best, despite coming up a short in the final and third ride against Great Britain.
“Really for us, it’s about focusing on the journey and the process. If you looked at us last year, no one would have bet money that we’d be here. It just shows how hard the team is working,” Sparks said.
“I would have loved to win but is there anything we could have done better? No, GB was just better than us. We knew it would be a battle over three days and three rides and our goal was to get better and better which we did. Our goal for qualifying was to ride a 4:14. Our goal for round one was a 4:12. Our goal for this evening was to ride a 4:11. We came up a little bit short on that but it was our best effort. It just wasn’t quite good enough today but it wasn’t because we didn’t execute on our plan and do our best."
Dygert shows huge potential again
Despite missing out on the gold medal, the USA knows it has the riders for the future. Dygert is only 19. She won the junior world titles in the road race and time trial in Richmond in 2015 and finished sixth overall in the Tour of California. Everything is new to her, including the scale of the Olympics but she values Hammer’s leadership and experience.
“I’m not really familiar with the cycling world and I came to the track kind of clueless as well. It’s nice having Sarah to give me all her experience. I couldn’t be more thankful for that. She was there for my first day on the track bike to help me with my exchanges, with pulling, and with being in an aero position,” she said.
Hammer said that she was inspired by her younger teammates.
“It’s very, very exciting to be a part of this young squad,” Hammer said. “By your third Olympic Games, you don’t get excited about certain things because you’re just used to them. Seeing the spark in their eyes, the excitement that they see, it’s something that I get to relive over again.”