Paul McCartney did not appear in the Olympic velodrome to cheer for the Americans or the Canadians but his bouncing presence made the Canadians realize they had competed and in a momentous cycling event, where they rolled to bronze.
"I couldn't believe it," said Gillian Carleton, who didn't know the former Beatle was in the audience until her team, which includes Jasmin Glaesser and squad leader Tara Whitten, beat Australia in the 3-kilometre pursuit.
McCartney was gracious enough to applaud the Canadians and the Americans, who took silver, when the ladies stood proud on the medal podium. He went wild for the British women – Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Roswell -- who took gold after a blistering race at world-record speed.
The British women's victory sent the 6000 spectators in the audience, most of the British, into ear-splitting rapture. Their gold handed Britain their fourth gold in three days of velodrome track competition, with more medal events to come. London 2012 has turned into a gold rush for British cyclists. Including Bradley Wiggins's win a week ago in the road-race time trial, Britain's gold medal tally in the cycling events rises to five.
The bronze medal race was a thriller. No two teams were more evenly matched that the Canadians and the Australians. In the qualifying round on Friday, Australia beat Canada by a mere 0.026 of a second. The Canadians' exceedingly narrow defeat in races that are measured in thousandths of a second evidently pushed them into redoubling their effort.
In the first round of team pursuit final Saturday, the Canadians, as expected, lost to the British. The shoot-out with the Australians for bronze was next up and tensions were high. "The Australians are phenomenal," Carleton, who is from Victoria, B.C., said. "I was definitely quite nervous going up against them in the bronze final. But we were so closely matched that it made for a very exciting race."
Indeed, Canadians and the Australians traded the lead position in almost every circuit in the first half of the 12-lap race. In the second half, the Canadians held the lead, but it was so razor-thin that the race could have gone either way. The Canadians won my less than half a second.
"The last three laps, I was seeing stars," Carleton said. "I probably had my eyes closed half the time."
The victory for Carleton is especially sweet. After taking a pelvis-breaking fall last November in a points race in Kazakhstan, she was unsure she would even be able to compete in 2012. But the rehab went well and she emerged in top fighting form. The victory was sweet for Glaesser too. She is German, has lived in Canada for ten years, but only gained her Canadian citizenship last September. That allowed her to represent Canada in the Olympics. "I wanted to represent [Canada] for such a long time," she said
Whitten, who set the pace for the Canadians throughout the race, disappeared quickly after the medals were presented to by Canada's Dick Pound, who is member of the International Olympic Committee. She is preparing for the omnium, a grueling event in which six races, ranging from a sprint to a 20-km points race, are held over two days.
Canada's Zach Bell, who is from the Yukon, finished his first day of the omnium Saturday in a disappointing 9th position overall. He has three more events Sunday.
Bell was not happy with his performance on Saturday. "I just had a bad day," he said
But he said he expected to perform better in the Sunday's races, which are more suited to his competitive abilities. "I'm going to have to do what I am capable of," he said.