While their endurance counterparts were flying high in the team pursuit, Great Britain’s team sprint squads failed to impress on the opening day of the UCI Track World Championships in London. Both teams missed out on medals after they were knocked out of qualifying in Wednesday’s afternoon session.
To add insult to injury for the British women, Katy Marchant and Jessica Varnish's fifth place was not enough to secure the team a slot in the event at the Olympic Games. They needed to finish with at least two teams between the French and themselves, but they closed the afternoon session with just the Netherlands as a buffer. The result means that they only qualify one sprinter for the Olympic Games in Rio.
“We’ve given everything. We’ve done everything we’ve been asked of. To be fifth in the world and not ride in the Olympics, I’ve got no words,” Marchant told the press after the session had finished. “We should never have been in the position that we’re in today. To be able to come out and perform like we did today, under the pressure that we’ve been under, I’m proud of Jess. I’m proud of myself. But to be sitting here saying we’re not going to the Olympics is heart-breaking.”
Britain’s women’s sprint team has been hit by a number of injuries and changes in the past year, meaning that they were cutting Olympic qualification very fine. Varnish, who missed out on a shot at a medal in London 2012 when the team were disqualified in the first round, was heavily critical of the way Great Britain’s decision-making in the build-up to the competition.
“Decisions have gone on above us that are out of our control. When you’re starting to qualify for the Olympic Games you cannot have these decisions happen,” Varnish said. “There’s been people put out for races, say European Championships last year... it’s great they’ve been given an opportunity to major championships and to try to qualify the 'A team' a place at Olympic Games, but they’re not there yet. We have been basically playing catch up through bad decisions and bad luck."
When asked whether or not she would continue for the 2020 Olympics, Varnish replied. “I feel sick. I don’t know (Tokyo). We put our lives on the line for this.
“We give absolutely everything. There’s so much we sacrifice – and I wouldn’t even call it a sacrifice – we choose to put forward for our performance and for competitions like this because we’re professionals, and this is our job.
“I feel for myself, I feel sick for Katy. How many more times can I keep putting my life on hold, making these choices for my career, if it’s not going to pay off, through no fault of our own? I won’t let people like this make me quit. I started being a cyclist when I was 12 or 13 years old to be an Olympic champion. I’m not going to quit.”
The mood in the men’s camp was a little bit more positive, despite also falling at the first hurdle of competition. The trio of Philip Hines, Callum Skinner and Jason Kenny set the sixth fastest time of the qualifying round, missing out by a tiny margin of 0.011.
“I’m obviously devastated to miss it by such a small margin, but then, at least, we’ve only got a small margin to close the gap. It’s frustrating to be sixth,” said Kenny in the track centre. “We came from behind then to win, and we’re going to try and do the same this year. At the end of the day, we’re now than we were then, it’s just that everyone is a little bit faster now too. I think we’re all a couple of thousandths of a second off. We’re right up there, and we just have to work together on our weaknesses.”
Another positive to take from the day was Hines blistering opening lap of 17.030, the fastest of all 14 teams. The German-born Brit, who was brought into the squad just before the last Olympic Games at just 19, was happy with his performance and believes that he can go even faster in Rio.
“I think it was the fastest time at sea-level. So I’m pretty much the fastest guy in the world, apart from when Rene Enders did 16.9 in Aguascalientes at altitude. I’m happy with how I’ve improved, and the team has really come together. I’m proud of those guys,” Hines said. “I’m pretty sure that we have a medal ride in us from Rio.”
The finals of the team sprint will take place on Wednesday evening with China and Russia going head to head for gold in the women’s competition while New Zealand and the Netherlands face off in the men’s.