Anna Meares, you are our Golden Girl
The stunned look on the faces of the pro-British crowd said it all. After looking impregnable all week, finally a chink in the armour – Team GB had faltered.
Victoria Pendleton – Queen Victoria to some – had been relegated after wavering above the dreaded red line at the velodrome during the first race in the final of the women’s sprint event.
Anna Meares – our Anna – was one sprint away from gold.
Relegation on the track is often a contentious issue and the world championships held in Melbourne last April were marred by several disqualifications for what many viewed as being rather minor infractions. But this decision was completely right.
Meares had the speed and would have crossed the line first anyway had the British rider held her line. She nearly did, despite the tangle of elbows.
Race two saw Meares dominate. Spurred on by her miscalculation in the Keirin, nothing was going to stop the Queenslander from finishing on top.
First away at the start of the second sprint, Meares climbed to the top of the track and almost came to a standstill, bringing off the difficult manoeuvre perfectly and forcing Pendleton to take the lead.
Leaving nothing unturned in her quest for gold, it was a move that she had focused on leading up to the games, constantly practising and refining her technique in a bid to cover all bases and counter any tactic that may be played against her.
It paid off. Pendleton, unable to hold her position, swooped down the track and took the lead, Meares on her wheel in perfect position, a minor victory before the final assault.
Psychologically Pendleton was beaten at that moment and she knew it. The race was playing out exactly as Meares wanted it too. The Australian left her rival dangling in front until the final passage of the back straight before unleashing an unrelenting burst of speed that made the Brit appear to stand still.
Already drawing alongside Pendleton, Meares kicked home the advantage by rising out of the saddle for a final, withering spurt. Her legs a blur, her bike almost floating across the banked track, she hit the final bend a length ahead and never looked back.
The celebrations started early and the unbridled joy of crossing the line and claiming gold lasted long into the night.
Much has been made of her rivalry with Pendleton. Though played down by the riders themselves, it does exist, buoyed along by an errant comment here, a reckless ride there. But what also exists is a grudging respect between the two, evident by the graciousness of the British rider in defeat.
For Meares, it quite literally capped off a four year cycle of blood, sweat and tears.
Her accident before the Beijing Olympics and the resultant broken neck almost scuttled her chances at the 2008 event. That she came back to not only compete, but to claim a silver medal in China speaks volumes for her courage and determination.
To maintain her focus and successfully face the hostile British crowds four years later shows total dedication to her chosen sport and is an attitude that some of Australia’s other high profile athletes would do well to emulate.
No excuses. Totally prepared and completely focused.
Well done Anna Meares, you truly are a Golden Girl.