The Olympic Velodrome hosted its first world record on the second day it was open to top riders.
The building in London’s Olympic Park in the eastern part of the city is hosting the UCI Track Cycling World Cup until Feb. 19. The event has attracted five Olympic champions including Britain’s Chris Hoy, and 16 world champions.
Track cycling has grown in popularity in Britain since the country took seven of the sport’s ten medals at the 2008 Beijing Games. All of the 25,000 tickets to the World Cup’s six sessions were sold out in half an hour.
“It’s like a wave following you around,” Britain’s Steven Burke told reporters, when asked about the atmosphere in the Velodrome, which has a double-curved roof. Burke won a bronze in Beijing in the individual pursuit.
Australia’s Kaarle McCulloch and Anna Meares today set the first world record. The world champion pair beat Lithuania’s Gintare Gaivenyte and Simona Krupeckaite in a women’s team sprint qualifier over two laps in 32.828 seconds. That beat Australia’s previous world record of 32.923 seconds set in Copenhagen in 2010. The pair will race Britain in the evening session today for the gold medal.
“It felt really nice,” McCulloch said. “Personally, I’ll be better tonight. I was a little nervous as it was the first one.”
The 250-meter (820-foot) track, drawn up by Australian track designer Ron Webb and made of 56 kilometers of Siberian pine, is “very fast,” Liang Jing of China told reporters.
The crowd in the 6,000-seat arena roared whenever British cyclists took to the track, which was installed by 26 specialist carpenters over a period of eight weeks.
“It was a wall of noise the whole time, and it was only qualifying in a test event,” Edward Clancy, a team pursuit gold medalist in Beijing for Britain, told reporters. “I cannot imagine what it will be like in the Olympics. It was mental. We had to keep a lid on our emotions.”
“It’s a very round track,” Sarah Hammer of the U.S., a four-time world champion in individual pursuit, said. “You’re on full gas all the way around.”
The World Cup, which provides riders with an opportunity to qualify for the London Olympics which start on July 27, is also serving as a test event for the London Olympic organizing committee.
‘In the Event’
“When you’re inside the velodrome, the lights are great and you’re so close to the cyclists,” said Fabien Renard, a 40-year-old visiting from Paris. “It’s great. You’re in the event. And I’m not even a big cycling fan.”
Having a dress rehearsal that involves 340 riders from 48 nations and 18 teams across a four-day competition is “incredibly valuable” for Olympics organizers, Debbie Jevans, director of sport for the local organizers, said in an interview.
With 161 days to go before the Games, organizers will test the track, athlete facilities, results, timing and scoring systems. It’s also a dress rehearsal for a workforce of 1,000 people.
The track cycling competition is the 13th test event out of 24 in total held before the Games. The diving test event will be held Feb. 20-26 at the Aquatic Centre, which is located a short walk from the Velodrome.
“What we didn’t want to do was to have the athletes, or the media or the spectators, turn up and having to worry about stuff,” Jevans said. “So by ensuring that we run the test events, we can learn from those and come the Games, we know we are going to get it absolutely right.”
Although the track is fast, British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford played down expectations of another record cycling medal haul for Britain in London.
“What we did in Beijing was stratospheric and I think the passage of time will show that that was unbelievable,” Brailsford said in comments e-mailed by British Cycling earlier this week.
“It’s a great thing to have done and we wouldn’t change it. But for people who are on the outside looking in, they just look at it and think it’s an automatic thing - that we just rock up and win. Of course it’s not like that. Olympic sport is the only sport where you use a four-year time frame to judge form.”