The first night of the men's individual sprint competition at the 2012 Olympic Games in London saw the easy advance of the start list's top names: Jason Kenny, Gregory Baugé and Shane Perkins, but several more have moved onto the quarterfinal who were never expected to be there. Two are coached by 2008 team sprint gold medalist Jamie Staff, and live in the USA: Jimmy Watkins and Njisane Phillip.
Watkins failed to come close to his personal best in the flying 200m qualifier, but he moved on through the next two rounds with the kind of ease that was beyond his level of experience. "My qualifying didn't go as well as I wanted to, but I'm certainly feeling better in the racing and as of now I met my goal," he said after advancing out of the 1/8 final. "I wanted to make the 5-8 (th final) and I have a chance to possibly make it in to the semis."
After qualifying in 12th, Watkins took the first round match sprint against Japan's Seiichiro Nakagawa with apparent ease, using his strong flying lap to surge ahead and hold on to advance to the 1/8 final. There, he met Pavel Kelemen of the Czech Republic, and reproduced the same kind of ride to win by several bike lengths.
Watkins is making his Olympic Games debut, but the 29-year-old American was surprisingly relaxed before the session, and that helped to produce his solid results. "I've been in that kind of mindset and I am probably the least nervous I've been of any race that I have been at which is great because if you get too anxious you over-react to things. Just ride your race, do light training - there's no stress, then you are at your best."
He will face up against the experienced Australian Shane Perkins in the quarterfinal, a rider who has been second in the world championships in the sprint and has won in World Cups.
Phillip, 21, who lives in California and is trained by Staff, won in two very different ways in his session. In the 1/16 heat he was up against New Zealand's Edward Dawkins in a close match that came down to a photo finish.
In the 1/8, he came up against the big German Robert Forstemann, who had no match for Phillip's turn of speed in the final lap. "You've just got to stick it out. I wanted to step up and ride him hard and I got through with a victory so I'm very thankful for that," he said. "The crowd were just going wild. I've never raced with a crowd that wild before."
In tomorrow's quarterfinal, he will face Russian Denis Dmitriev in the quarterfinal, and is going in with an optimistic attitude. "I've just got to take it one step at a time, reset the day and get ready for tomorrow."
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. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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