After Australia’s travails in qualifying, Sam Welsford acknowledged that the squad’s eventual bronze medal in the team pursuit at the Tokyo Olympics felt like gold. The Australian quartet of Welsford, Leigh Howard, Kelland O’Brien and Lucas Plapp claimed the final podium spot on Wednesday after New Zealand were hindered by a crash in the bronze medal race.
Australia’s hopes of gold were dashed when they could only record the fifth fastest time in the qualifying round, where they had required a restart when Alex Porter crashed after his handlebars snapped.
In a team pursuit competition marked by crashes, Australia fought their way back into bronze medal contention with a strong display in the first round, while Great Britain crashed out of medal contention during their contentious defeat to Denmark.
Italy eventually claimed gold after breaking the world record in the final against Denmark, but there was drama in the bronze medal race, too, with New Zealand’s challenge effectively ended by Aaron Gate’s crash.
“We know how that feels with our first day, so we know we're pretty sympathetic towards them. Hopefully they can get through it and have a good rest of the competition,” said Welsford, who agreed that Australia’s eventual bronze medal felt like gold.
“Honestly, it does. With the rough start we had, you know, we went out today to see if we could get a medal that's almost worth gold from us. It's not the colour we wanted, but for us to be on the podium today after what we’ve been through is just as special, I think.”
Porter sat out the final rounds after his earlier crash, and he watched from the sidelines as his compatriots secured the bronze medal for Australia.
“This is the first time I've watched the team compete and felt like I was 100% out there on the track. They’ve had my back the whole way through this process,” said Porter, who expressed sympathy for New Zealand’s misfortune.
“You never want to win a bike race that away. I'm sure these boys are feeling the same. You can see it in their reactions, but different kind of bike racing. We got dealt three rough hands day one, and it’s not the nice way to win, but it’s just part of the sport.”
In a tight race, New Zealand took the lead after 1,000m and they held a lead of 0.3 seconds over Australia at the time of Gates’ crash at the midway point. That incident turned the race, with Australia quickly establishing a winning lead before catching New Zealand with a little over a lap remaining.
“It was a seesaw race. We've raced these boys quite a lot and we always know it's a great fight,” said Plapp. “It's going to be a dogfight, but we're prepared for that. It showed that right from the start. It was bouncing back and forth. Us boys, we’re here for the fight. We fought for the last three days to be here through some pretty tough moments. To be on the podium, it's pretty deserving of what we've gone through.”
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