Eight years ago, in Athens, on the track, Australia comfortably cleaned up, taking home five of the possible 12 gold medals, three more than their nearest competitors (Russia and Great Britain, two apiece). On top of that were two silvers and a bronze. The might of the Aussies on the pines was expected to showcase again four years on in Beijing. Instead, however Australia, finished with one silver. One lonely, measly silver. Won by a 24 year old, who less than a year before had broken her neck in a racing accident. In Athens that same girl had taken out a gold and a bronze. Now 28 years old, the oldest, most experienced and most loved rider of the Australian track team once again flew the flag for us. Australia won one gold, one silver and three bronze, our golden girl eight years on from her last was returned to where she deserves to be; on top of the dais. Anna Meares won one gold and one bronze.
In an Olympics that have been a disappointment for Australia it is ever so important to be able to deliver on expectations and hold your head high. Anna Meares can do that. She made the finals in the keirin, bronze in the team sprint and without a gold medal, Australia’s track team entered the final day with Meares as our last true hope. She had a semi final against Shuang Guo and in a best of three match up she easily delivered, winning in two to advance to the final that everybody wanted. Anna Meares vs Victoria Pendleton. Australia’s golden girl takes on Queen Victoria of Great Britain. A rivalry that has spanned almost a decade and most recently stepped up to a new level in Melbourne at the world championships. 31 year old Pendleton beat Meares into a silver in the sprint, crashing (due to Meares) in the final resulting in a disqualification for Meares in one of the rounds. Tensions were high and even Meares, usually one of the nicest, most lovely cyclists, engaged in a little bit of smack talk leading up to the Olympics. As far as track cycling goes, this was the biggest rivalry, made even bigger by the fact that Australia had not won a gold yet and that this was to be Pendleton’s last ride. Australia was awake, Britain was cheering, Meares was focused and Pendleton was determined. They lined up next to each other, eyes staring straight ahead, they were announced and then the gun went. For what was the biggest race of the meet it certainly was spectacular, but perhaps only if you’re an Aussie.
In the first round Pendleton managed to win but not before performing what is known as a ‘flick’ in track cycling. With 200m to go, if you are under the red line on the velodrome you’re not allowed out, however what a lot of sprinters do is ‘flick’ their bike at the other rider to cause them to hesitate and slow down. It is considered a bit of a dangerous but exciting move, and Pendleton pulled it in desperation. To her dismay she didn’t manage to control it and came out of the red sprinters lane, causing her to be disqualified from that round. Her face of shock when the referees announced it, the look on the royals’ faces, the gasp from the crowd. That was the moment that she lost the gold medal. Pendleton, not the most mentally strong rider, could not come back. The second and final round resembled more or less a great rider dispatching a lesser rider in an earlier round of the competition as opposed to the two best sprinters of their generation. Anna Meares took out Victoria Pendleton in the way deserved of our Golden Girl, with style, grace, power and something so beautiful when an Aussie beats a Pom; ease.
Anna Meares is our greatest female track cyclist ever. Everything fitted into place, she’d worked so hard to come back from the broken neck she suffered five years ago, carrying Australia’s track program’s flag. Finally, our power is being restored, but still and until she retires, Anna will be our number one girl, flying home with a gold medal around her neck, we wouldn’t have it any other way.