Italy won gold in the men’s team pursuit for the first time in 61 years on Wednesday, breaking their own world record to beat Denmark in a thrilling final at the Izu Velodrome.
The Italians shaded a neck-and-neck battle on the track, their blistering time of 3min 42.032sec just enough to hold off Denmark, who crossed the line in 3:42.198.
Led by the 25-year-old Filippo Ganna, the Italy quartet roared with delight after they powered to victory, circling around the arena in front of an enthralled crowd of around 1,000 fans in Shizuoka.
Located 145km outside Tokyo, the velodrome is one of the few venues at Tokyo 2020 allowing a limited number of spectators and they were treated to a brilliant final in what is the most prestigious event of the track cycling programme.
Ganna, who endured disappointment on the road last week in the time trial, was integral to the victory, regaining Italy’s advantage with a superb final lap.
“We know Denmark are good over the first three kilometres and we have something special in the last kilometre,” said Ganna. “The plan went well and now we have the gold medal around our necks.”
Ganna, Simone Consonni, Francesco Lamon and Jonathan Milan sealed a record extending eighth Olympic gold medal in the men’s team pursuit but it is their first gold in the event since Rome 1960.
This was also only Italy’s second Olympic gold medal on the track in the last 21 years, with Elia Viviani winning the men’s omnium at Rio 2016.
“We are so happy for this gold medal,” said Consonni. “This is a big, big lift for the whole group. For five years we started working for this. We are so happy.”
Danes ‘incredibly disappointed’
They had already broken the world record on Tuesday, lowering the mark Denmark had set en route to becoming world champions in Berlin last year.
Denmark were going for only their second men’s team pursuit gold in history and went close, with their attempt also beating Italy’s previous world record time.
“We’re incredibly disappointed right now,” said Danish rider Niklas Larsen. “We’ve been training towards and hoping for gold for such a long time. Right now we are super disappointed.”
Australia claimed a bronze medal to go with silvers from 2012 and 2016 after they beat New Zealand, whose hopes were ended when Aaron Gate crashed out.
New Zealand were leading at the halfway point but Gate went sliding across the boards after clipping Jordan Kerby’s back wheel, allowing Australia to seal victory.
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” said New Zealand’s Regan Gough.
In the men’s team sprint, Dutch duo Harrie Lavreysen and Jeffrey Hoogland shared the same time of 9.215sec as they advanced fastest through the opening qualifying round.
Britain’s Jack Carlin was next quickest, although he was later given a scare by Malaysia’s Muhammad Sahrom as he tried to sneak through on the inside and Sahrom briefly drove him off the track.
Reigning champion Jason Kenny survived a close duel with local favourite Yuta Wakimoto, who had the crowd behind him but left a little too much to do on the final straight.
Kenny is aiming to become the first cyclist to win three gold medals in the men’s sprint event.