British win men's team sprint, women's marred by relegations

Chris Hoy provided a storybook ending to the men's team sprint Thursday during the first day of track cycling competition.

He rode the final lap to secure the gold medal for Great Britain with a world record time, and earned his fifth Olympic title to match Sir Steve Redgrave.

"It's just great to win here in the UK, in front of this crowd, it's phenomenal," Hoy said. "You cannot overstate what this means to us. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

But if Hoy's story was a dream, the women's team sprint was a nightmare of ruling and relegations. In the first year this competition has been part of the Olympic program, teams from Great Britain and China were relegated, resulting in a silver medal for the Chinese rather than gold.

All the drama was nearly enough to make another world record performance, this one by Great Britain's team pursuit squad in qualifying, an afterthought.

The men's team sprint competition didn't get off to the best start for the host British. Philip Hindes, the lead rider, wobbled after coming out of the starting gate because of an apparent steering problem, then fell down.

But a restart was ordered, and the British team set an Olympic record while qualifying with the fastest time ahead of France and Australia, which was the reigning world champion.

The British women's team had also been successful in qualifying, setting the world record moments before China broke it again.

However, disaster struck for Great Britain's Jessica Varnish and Victoria Pendleton in the next round.

They easily defeated the Ukraine in their heat, but in the minutes following that result, it was determined that Pendleton passed Varnish too early during the race -- which is two laps compared to three for men.

Pendleton rode the fastest second lap of that round, but the ruling meant that she and Varnish weren't going to contest for a medal.

China then qualified for the final with another world record, this time in 32.422 seconds.

The Chinese duo of Gong Jinjie and Guo Shuang edged Germany's Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel -- the reigning world titlists -- in the gold medal race. But again, race officials determined there was an illegal exchange.

As the decision made its way around the arena and the news soaked in, signs of disbelief spread across the faces of the Germans and Chinese -- only for different reasons.

"We really could not believe it when we saw it on the screen that we were Olympic champions," Vogel said. "It's amazing. It's weird and amazing."

As a result, the Germans took the top step of the podium and China earned silver. Australia had defeated the Ukraine, which replaced Great Britain, for the bronze.

By contrast, Hoy and his teammates were dominant and left little question as to which team was strongest. They had set a world record to move into the gold medal race against France, then broke it again with a time of 42.600.

The French were only .005 seconds behind the British after the first lap, but Jason Kenny widened the margin with a strong second lap. Hoy's final lap extended the gap to .413 seconds.

Germany defeated Australia for the bronze.

It's been quite a successful Olympics for Hoy, who carried Great Britain's flag at the opening ceremony. Now, he is tied with Redgrave for most gold medals in the country's history, and can move past that mark with a win in the keirin. He also equaled the all-time record for total medals in track cycling.