Australia and Britain Rivalry Intensifies

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17th-19th February 2012
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18th February 2012

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19th February 2012

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Australia and Britain Rivalry Intensifies


Australia and Britain Rivalry Intensifies

22nd February 2012: Racing in their home velodrome and backed by a lively partisan crowd of 6000, Great Britain's expectations of Olympic track cycling glory this summer are understandably high.

But home hopes of another gold frenzy, four years after dominating their rivals in Beijing, could be over-exaggerated.

With new rules meaning only one competitor per nation for each of the five Olympic events, there will be no repeat of Beijing when Britain boasted several riders in finals on their way to seven of the 10 gold medals.

Another, arguably more important factor however is the steady resurrection of traditional rivals like Australia, France and Germany.

While Britain saw plenty of promise during a four-day World Cup and Olympic test event which ended here Sunday, Australia confirmed their place at track's top table with solid performances in key events.

Their men's pursuit team edged close to Britain's world record of 3min 53.314sec when they beat the hosts in the final in a time of 3:54.615.

Australia's women also set a new world record time on their way to bronze, a time that was then beaten by Britain in the final.

Not counting the inaugural Olympic events of the omnium, in which they both have realistic medal hopes, the decades-old Australia v Britain rivalry looks set to light up the track.

Having left Beijing with only Anna Meares' silver in the sprint to their name, Australia's high performance director Kevin Tabotta believes their comeback is complete.

"We're certainly in a better position than (going into) the last Olympics, I think that's pretty clear. We've working pretty hard over the last four years to give ourselves more options," he said Sunday.

"I don't think I'm being unrealistic in saying that we're in the hunt in most of the Olympic events."

In five weeks, both teams will be tweaking tactics, performance and personnel at the April 4-8 world championships in Melbourne.

It is where Sir Chris Hoy could find out whether he, or sprint selection rival Jason Kenny, is given the nod for London by British team bosses and also where the Australian men's pursuit team could be bolstered in a bid to crank up the times towards the 3:50 that experts say will be needed to win gold.

"I think the challenge for the Olympics in August will be to go another two or three seconds faster if we want to win the Olympic gold medal," added Tabotta.

Olympic champions Britain finished three seconds off Australia's winning pace, but are confident the gap can be closed.

"We will go to Melbourne to win, or at least to close the gap," said Ed Clancy.

While promising to be "competitive" in the men's speed events, currently being dominated by Britain, France and Germany, Australia's biggest sprint hopes arguably stop at Meares.

Since her second place finish behind Victoria Pendleton in Beijing the Queenslander beat the five-time world champion to the world title last year, and also humbled the Englishwoman in a thrilling semi-final victory over three races Saturday.

In the final China's Guo Shuang, the bronze medallist in Beijing, beat a tiring Meares. However that was a mere blip for Meares' coach Gary West in a tournament where intensity levels went through the roof.

"Against Pendleton, when she went to three rides, that racing was... probably the highest quality I've ever seen in women's sprint cycling," said West.

"She took it to a new level and I know that will hold Anna in really good stead going into London in August."

In her last Olympics, Pendleton hopes to defend her title and win the inaugural two-woman team sprint that Meares and Kaarle McCulloch have dominated at the last three world championships.

McCulloch, however, says she is not ready to let that happen: "We'll be better at the worlds and we'll be better in London, you can bet your bottom dollar on it."

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