USA wages Olympic qualification battles in Argentina

The race for qualification places for the 2012 Olympic Games in London is nearing its end for track cycling, and the USA's chances to add members to its team increased at the Pan American Track Cycling Championships in Mar Del Plata, Argentina.

Because the Olympic track peloton is limited to 10 countries in the team events (pursuit and sprint), eight in the sprint and keirin and 18 in the omnium, the battle for qualification has never been more intense.

While the USA has only ensured its place in the women's team pursuit and omnium, it made important strides in the men's team sprint and omnium in the Pan Am championships.

Michael Blatchford, Kevin Mansker and Jamie Watkins took home the gold medal this week over Canada and Argentina, with Venezuela finishing fourth. That result closed the gap for the USA, which must now fight to become one of 10 teams which earn a bid for the event in the London Olympic Games.

The USA was 13th in the UCI nations rankings for the men's team sprint behind Venezuela and Canada before the championships. Only the UCI World Track Cycling Championships remains to decide the final composition of nations for London, and the USA could now add three members to its team for London with a strong result in Melbourne with the right combination of placings.

"It was a long schedule with rain delays and warm weather, so we needed to conserve physical and mental energy,” said USA Cycling Sprint Track Program Director Jamie Staff. “We accomplished what we came here to do, and that was to gain points on Venezuela in the team sprint. The other medals we’ve earned have come as a nice reward for everyone’s hard work. Next, it’s straight back into training for the World Championships which are in a months’ time.”

The USA is also closing in on a spot for the men's Omnium, thanks to a bronze medal by Bobby Lea in Argentina. The USA was 24th in the omnium before the championships, however the continents are restricted to a maximum number of riders per event (in this case, 8 for Europe, 6 for the Americas, 5 for Asia, 2 for Oceania and 1 for Africa), so the USA's chances for qualifying are still good as long as Lea can finish in the top 12 in Melbourne.

It is unlikely that the USA will qualify anyone for the women's sprint events or the men's team pursuit, despite promising results in Argentina this week.

The USA took home a silver in the women's team sprint (Liz Carlson/Dana Feiss), bronze in the keirin (Jennifer Valente), fourth place in the men's team pursuit, in addition to bronze medals in the men's omnium and women's team pursuit in the Olympic events.

In the non-Olympic races, Lea won the men's scratch race, Elizabeth Newell took bronze in the individual pursuit, Jennifer Valente won bronze in the scratch race, Liz Reap was third in the women's 500m time trial.

The Panamerican Championship road race events begin Friday.

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