Elia Viviani was unable to hold back the tears after winning the gold medal in the men's omnium at the Olympic Games in Rio. The emotions of the final points race and years of disappointment overwhelmed him as he hugged his parents and realised he had beaten Mark Cavendish and Lasse Norman Hansen to win.
The Italian was brought down by a crash early in the final points race after Cavendish made contact with Sanghoon Park of Korea. But he got back up, won some important points in late sprints and controlled his rivals to secure final victory.
Viviani missed out on a medal in London 2012, finishing sixth after leading the omnium for much of the two days. He endured a similar fate at this year's world championships, losing the title in the final sprint of the points race. In Rio he had the points advantage and time to savour his success during the final laps, and then let out a roar of happiness as he crossed the line.
"I've won the most important race of my life, I've been thinking about this medal for four years," Viviani told Gazzetta dello Sport after proudly singing the Italian national anthem.
"That's why I cried so much. I've worked so much for this but also suffered a lot of disappointment. I had to work to get over it all but now it's been worth it all.
"It's true that even a silver or bronze medal have to be considered a success but I wanted the gold. I've put a lot into this and I think I deserve it because I always believed I could do it. I've got to thank the Italian national coach Marco Villa and the group of young riders in the team: my improvement in the pursuit is thanks to them and especially (world champion) Ganna. I've also got to thank my family and my partner Elena [Cecchini], who always helps me stay calm even in moments of panic like before the final points race."
Viviani started the decisive points race as leader of the omnium, meaning it was up to his rivals to try to gain a lap and score 20 points or reduce his lead in the sprints contested every ten laps. He fought for points in the early sprints but then crashed hard. He banged his hand on the floor in frustration but quickly composed himself, realised he was not injured and found some extra determination.
"It was a shock because you never know what can happen in a crash," Viviani explained.
"I saw that my bike was okay and so I took a lap to see how I felt. I remembered that I was leading the omnium and that I couldn't give up, so I suddenly had extra adrenaline. When I won the sprint with 20 laps to go, I knew they couldn't beat me and so I savoured the final 10 laps."
Cavendish not at fault, time to focus on road racing
Viviani almost lost his chance of victory because of the crash. Some pointed the finger at Cavendish for his sudden move down the track but Viviani refused to blame the Manxman for the crash.
"It's not his fault. The Korean guy was halfway on his wheel to the right, whereas normally you stay on the wheel. Cav was in front and changed direction. For sure it was a bad moment in the race but it's a normal crash on the track."
Taking gold cancelled Viviani's bad memories from London and the more recent world championships. Viviani is the leader of the Italian track team and Italy's only medal on the track but hinted he will now focus on road racing with Team Sky and perhaps target the Classics and sprints.
"I lost the world title by half a wheel and if I'd done the time I did here in London, I'd have another gold medal," Viviani said.
"I think this success marks the end of a chapter in my career. I'll race on the track but now I've go to think about other goals. But heading back to road racing with this gold medal around my neck is the best thing that could have happened."
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