British Cycling stunned the world when it put 24-year-old Jason Kenny into the men's individual sprint and not the defending champion Chris Hoy for its home Olympic Games in London. After Kenny soundly defeated Frenchman Grégory Baugé in the gold medal final, all doubts about that decision went out the window.
Kenny admitted to feeling a little pressure toward the end, knowing that Hoy was a proven closer, and pointing to the new UCI selection process which prevented the pair from going head to head for silver and gold as they had in Beijing.
"If you look back in history, when it comes down to those really important rides, when it really matters, nine times out of 10, [Hoy] stepped up. That's why he's got so many medals and so much success in sport - he's got that killer instinct to finish off the race and put it to bed when it matters," Kenny said.
"It wasn't until the last second, when I stepped up for the last ride that it dawned on me, that if Chris were in my shoes there was no way he would lose this one. It was just a case of getting up there and justifying my place. So I was really pleased obviously. It's just a real shame we couldn't bring both riders in there."
Hoy and Kenny got to share in the gold medal earlier in the Games, when they were part of the winning team sprint squad with Philip Hindes, but this time Kenny was able to complete his lap of honour in front of the crowds.
"I really enjoy winning the team sprint, but to be honest, I couldn't really savour the moment this time because I felt so sick after the finals, so I kind of let everybody else do the victory lap while I sat down and tried to keep the lunch down. So it was nice to enjoy the moment this time and enjoy the crowd, and just kind of soak it up."
But what of Baugé, who has dominated the individual sprints in the intervening four years since Hoy and Kenny fought for gold in Beijing? The Frenchman had been world champion each year since then, with the exception of the title from 2011, which was stripped and handed to second-placed Kenny after Baugé was disqualified for whereabouts violations.
The Frenchman made short work of defeating Kenny just four months ago at the world championships. What made the difference in between?
"After qualifying three days ago, we realized we had a bit more speed, which is always a luxury in a sprint. It means if you don't make any mistakes you should come out on top nine times out of 10, short a really special ride. My final rides weren't particularly amazing to be honest, especially that first one. I was really fortunate to be able to get around there. I was in a bad place, and with about half lap to go, I went and I let the crowd carry me along."
Kenny had called his French rival "unbeatable" in previous interviews, and in reflecting on that comment he hinted at his preparation to overcome him in London. "It's just a feeling when you've ticked off all the boxes and you get to the back straight with half a lap to go, and you realize he's got another gear. That was the position we found ourselves in at the world championships. That's when it dawns on you that you're just not fast enough against him. That's when you have to re-think - that's why we went for the long one this time at the world championships, which to be honest didn't really work. It wasn't the most pleasant race of my life.
"If there is one thing that Baugé has it's raw power, and that is something he had over us. It was the case of going away and trying to close that gap. It was a job well done by the coaches and the other guys."
What he did to close that gap was a subject of some questioning for Baugé himself, who even took to the microphone at the press conference to ask Kenny that very thing. But the British rider would only reiterate the mantra that the entire British team has been saying throughout the Games:
"When it comes to the Olympics we make sure we get every little detail right. It's not like we're winning by miles. It's not one little thing, it's making sure every box is ticked," Kenny said. "Team morale goes a long way as well. It feels like once you win the first gold, everyone wants to get on that bandwagon."
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