In 2008, a young Michael Mørkøv had his sights on the Olympic Games gold medal in the men's Madison in Beijing. He and Danish teammate Alex Rasmussen had won the final round of the Track World Cup in the event and had taken third in the World Championships and were the favourites for the Olympic event. But three teams snuck away and the best the Danes could do was sixth.
The heartbreak was compounded when the Madison was removed from the Olympic programme for 2012 and 2016. But when the event returned for the Tokyo Olympics, Mørkøv, with his ace new partner Lasse Norman Hansen, had one more chance for glory and seized it with both hands on Saturday.
"I know we won the race but it's hard to believe now," Mørkøv said. "We were the main favourite, Lasse and I won all the Madisons we ever did together. We knew we had a good shot at this."
The victory was by no means easy, with the Danes lagging behind early aggressors and fellow medalists Great Britain and France in the first half of the race. France went on the attack to try to steal a lap, which would have earned them a 20-point bonus, but the effort fell short.
The Danes steadily picked up more points than any other team in the sprints, heading into the final of the race with an 11-points advantage over Great Britain and with only 10 points available on the finish line, the Danes could feel confident unless another team managed to lap the field.
That's exactly what Belgium’s Kenny de Ketele and Robbe Ghys tried to do - they pushed all their chips in, forcing France and Britain to chase. Had they gained the lap, they would have pulled one point ahead of Denmark and taken gold.
Mørkøv said it was a risk to not personally chase Belgium down. "I was at the limit at that time. Maybe we could have closed the gap. But it was OK because they took all the points from France. It was a calculated risk to let them go. They went a bit too far. It wasn't comfortable in the end but it was very exciting."
13 years after taking his first Olympic medal in Beijing with silver in the team pursuit, Mørkøv can now proudly say he is an Olympic champion.
"I've been waiting a very long time for this," Mørkøv said.
"In 2008 my partner Alex Rasmussen and I were among the favourites for the Olympics, and we finished sixth. The year after we were world champions but then this event was taken off the Olympic programme, it was a big bummer."
Mørkøv then shifted his sights to a road career, signing his first pro contract with the Saxo Bank team in 2009. He's since gone on to be one of the most respected and highly sought after sprint lead-out men with Deceuninck-Quickstep. He was key in piloting Mark Cavendish to his four Tour de France stage victories this year, and Sam Bennett's pair of stage wins and green jersey in 2020.
Mørkøv thanked his team manager Patrick Lefevere for giving him the freedom to pursue his Olympic dreams.
"In 2017 when I heard it was back on the programme I had no doubt this would be my shot for an Olympic gold medal. My team manager let me have the ambition and now I'm standing here with the gold medal."
The pride showed as Mørkøv belted out the Danish national anthem as he stood atop the podium at the Izu Velodrome in what is likely his final Olympic appearance at age 36.
"Maybe this was the last victory in my whole career so I wanted to sing as loud as I could."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news.
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