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Rio Olympics 2016: Silver team sprint success helps take heat off

New Zealand silver medallists, from left, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins on the podium at the Rio Olympic Velodrome. Picture / AP
New Zealand silver medallists, from left, Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins on the podium at the Rio Olympic Velodrome. Picture / AP

Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Eddie Dawkins' silver team sprint medal at the Rio Olympics will alleviate some pressure on Cycling New Zealand. Anxious moments loom as the track campaign gets into top gear.

The governing body is tasked with delivering five medals, a bold goal considering New Zealand has earned only eight in its history and five have come in the last two Games. No one can fault their ambition.

"We are looking to our track cycling team for the bulk of these [medals], given their world-class performances ... and especially since the inception of our centralised programme and new training base at the Avantidrome in Cambridge," performance director Mark Elliott stated in High Performance Sport New Zealand documentation during the campaign planning.

Those aspirations will be tested after world champion road time trialist Linda Villumsen's sixth, and the absence of London BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker following an injury-hampered build-up.

The men's team pursuit could contest gold but face a challenge this morning against new Olympic record-holders Britain; the women's team pursuit can earn bronze, medal chances remain in the individual sprint and the keirin, and Dylan Kennett is an omnium prospect. Any other contenders are welcome.

According to HPSNZ, cycling has received $26.471 million in taxpayer-funding during this campaign; $17.5 million goes directly towards the programme while the remainder pays for athlete support services, individual performance enhancement grants, innovation projects and Prime Minister's scholarships.

Another way the sport has benefited the country is through investment in local innovation projects and industry. Cycling New Zealand combined with manufacturers Avanti, wheelwrights Southern Spars, aerodynamic experts Kinetic Simulation and Auckland University's wind tunnel to produce the track bikes.

Bicycle design engineer David Higgins led the project for Sheppard Industries, who market the Avanti brand. He sought the best ways to lighten frames, reduce drag, and scythe through the red tape of cycling's governing body, the UCI.

The efforts of Dawkins, Webster and Mitchell, edged out of their Olympic dream by 0.102s, must also be rewarded in some capacity.

The investment of time and energy in a fast-twitching, slow-burning project over many years has paid dividends, but not to the extent Cycling NZ had aimed. With Dawkins turning 27 yesterday, and Webster and Mitchell both 25, there is scope to develop them further. The world champions can take pride in becoming the first New Zealanders to earn silver in a track cycling sprint event, backing up the keirin bronze Simon van Velthooven secured in London.

Webster described their commitment.

"We 'won' these silver medals.

"GB had some stellar rides and set two Olympic records [in the qualifying and the final] but I'm proud of what we achieved."

"They're the three fastest times we've ridden, we had an ideal build-up and I couldn't be prouder of the guys standing next to me," echoed Mitchell. "We left everything out there and, if anything, it's probably made us hungrier."

"We pushed hard and got pipped," Dawkins added. "It's unfortunate ... but it was by a better team."

Individual pursuiter Sarah Ulmer remains the only Kiwi to collect a gold, in the endurance rather than sprint arm of the discipline at Athens.

- NZ Herald

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