Callum Skinner’s surprise bid for an individual gold medal came to an end in the Olympic velodrome last night when he was beaten in the sprint final by his British team-mate, and Rio room-mate, Jason Kenny.
The 23-year-old from Glasgow, one of the revelations of these games, will go home instead with a silver medal to add to the gold that he won in the team sprint alongside Kenny and Phil Hindes. He might yet add another medal, with the keirin still to come.
Skinner’s march to the sprint final perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise after he qualified second behind Kenny, the reigning Olympic and world champion. That proved the speed was there. But match sprinting is about more than pure speed. It’s tactical and sprinters tend to improve with experience – something Skinner is short of, with his focus in the last couple of seasons on securing his place in the team sprint squad.
Kenny’s greater experience – he won a silver medal in Beijing in 2008, when he was in Skinner’s shoes, as the surprise finalist against his countryman, Chris Hoy – was evident in the first of three possible heats.
Skinner had the inside line and led it out while Kenny stalked him, high up the banking. As Hoy observed from his vantage point by the side of the track, Skinner was on a bigger gear than his opponent and couldn’t risk leaving it late. But when Skinner began winding it up Kenny kept his height and then pounced on the back straight on the final lap, swooping down the banking to catch and go over the top of Skinner.
In round two the starting order was reversed, with Kenny on the inside and leading it out. Skinner had it all to do, following Kenny as the Englishman rode with his head tilted back, watching his opponent as they slowly circled the track. Skinner did well to keep his height but he couldn’t get enough speed to overhaul Kenny, who, in winning the final 2-0, claimed his fifth Olympic gold medal.
Kenny went to the crowd to greet his family and collect a Union Jack and then returned to the track centre to embrace Skinner and celebrate with him. Those celebrations might have been tinged with disappointment for Skinner, but he will leave Rio with his reputation enhanced – Hoy called him “possibly the rider of the games so far” – and with a future full of possibilities. “The whole journey so far has been incredible,” said Skinner. “To come away with a silver medal, after being beaten by the world champion, a two-time Olympic champion, it’s been incredible. Our main focus has been team sprint so to come away with [an individual medal] is amazing.”
Meanwhile, Scot Katie Archibald looked back on a golden day for British cycling on Saturday, and admitted: “We feel like superheroes.”
Archibald became the first Scottish woman to win gold in Rio with victory in the women’s team pursuit alongside team-mates Joanna Rowsell-Shand, Elinor Barker and Laura Trott, the latter becoming the first British woman to win three Olympic golds.
Great Britain once dominated this discipline but the USA came in sensing blood and set a world leading 4:12.282 time in the first round. Within minutes the Brits had snatched it back. It was to be that sort of day.
“I feel as if my brain has switched off a little bit,” said 22-year-old Archibald. “All the blood has gone to my legs and now I don’t know where my head is.
“It feels like all the clichés. I’m not really sure of the right way to act. You don’t really believe it will happen until you’re here. I think once I’ve calmed down and everything starts to hurt then I’ll realise what I’ve done.
“We were convinced it was going to go down to the wire, America came out harder than us. We had a gap to close, and I had a sneaky look round to see that we were there, and it’s sort of a chomping on the bit situation. We feel like superheroes I suppose.”