Velodrome lives up to its star billing
LONDON (Reuters) - The 2012 Olympic velodrome proved itself more than just a pretty face on Thursday as the Games's most beautiful venue produced six world records and a gold medal for the hosts on a unforgettable first night of track cycling.
Chris Hoy almost lifted the "Pringle" roof when he powered Britain home to win the men's team sprint then spilled a manly tear on the podium in the centrefield he helped design.
The velodrome wowed visitors and competitors alike during February's World Cup test event and it got a worldwide audience on Thursday when Australian Ron Webb's design proved to be the super-fast track everyone had hoped for.
Unlike athletics, where official track dimensions are identical the world over, cycling tracks have a degree of individuality when it comes to their length, steepness of curves and start/finish points
The 250-metre London track, made with 56km of Siberian Pine and 350,000 nails has a finish line five metres further down the track than is normal, enabling riders to pick a faster finishing line as they 'sling' themselves from the banking into the final drive to the line.
"The straights are not short but the bends are nice and long," said Webb, who rejected the initial batch of pine ordered for the boards because it did not meet his strict quality criteria.
"It's definitely the best track I've worked on."
Webb was also responsible for the Olympic tracks in Seoul, Sydney and Athens as well as a host of others around the world but this is the first since Seoul in 1988 to be part of the main Olympic Park.
The whole venue is sealed with a system of double doors to keep out wind and dust and maintain the 28-degree temperature considered optimum for fast riding. Fans attending are briefly held in a 'decompression chamber' between the doors to maintain the status quo.
Outside, the sweeping curves and gorgeous western red cedar panels offer a spectacular backdrop than makes the velodrome London's equivalent of the Beijing Bird's Nest main stadium as the most photographed venue in the Olympic Park.
Dave Brailsford, British cycling's performance director, said after February's test event had also produced world records that it was clearly a fast track but opted not to use it as his team's regular training base.
Brailsford is famed for his attention to detail and scientific approach to wrenching every available thousandth of a second from his riders and their equipment and is the man who masterminded Britain's rise from virtual track cycling no-hopers 20 years ago to the sport's dominant nation.
He said, though, that once the riders had learned the lines and angles it would come down to their ability to produce their best form at just the right time if they were to repeat their impressive medal haul from Beijing.
Playing their part on Thursday were the 7,000 fans who created a deafening "wall of noise" whenever a British rider was in action.
Despite the frustration of seeing Britain's women's sprint team disqualified for a technical infringement having earlier set a world record, they were in full voice when the men's sprint team closed out the night with a stunning victory over favoured France.
Hoy wiped a tear from his eye after collecting his fifth gold medal and thanked the home fans - including Prince William and his wife Kate - for playing their part in his latest success with the incredible "wall of noise" that brought him home.
"It's just great to win here in the UK, in front of this crowd, it's phenomenal," said Hoy. "You cannot overstate what this means to us. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
(Editing by Alison Wildey)
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