Jennifer Valente (USA) leads the field during the women's omnium at the Tokyo Olympics.

History was made three times on the last day of Olympic track cycling

Kelsey Mitchell (Canada), Jason Kenny (Great Britain) and Jennifer Valente (USA) won historic gold medals on the last day of the Olympics.

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The Izu Velodrome hosted a dramatic final act for the Olympic track cycling events, with historic gold medals going to Jennifer Valente (USA), Jason Kenny (Great Britain) and Kelsey Mitchell (Canada) in the women’s omnium, men’s keirin and women’s sprint respectively.

The first ever US women’s Olympic gold in track cycling

Jennifer Valente led the omnium from start to finish to take the first track cycling gold for the US since 2000, and is the first woman ever to do so.

“Olympic gold, still the sound of it, I can’t get over it,” Valente said after the race. “It’s hard to believe, it’ll sink in eventually but it hasn’t quite yet.”

The 26-year-old won the crash-marred scratch race that opened the four-race event, held firm with third and fourth in the tempo and elimination stages, and recovered from a crash to take 14 points in the final points race, cementing her lead.

“I went into [the points race] leading but pretty close on points, so I just approached it the same way that you approach any other race, taking it one event at a time and one sprint at a time, looking at it as an individual race and trying to put the idea of an Olympic medal on the back burner for a moment.”

Valente has been a key part of Team USA’s track squad since before the 2016 Olympics in Rio, but has seen relatively little individual success until now.

“I think this result certainly has years and years behind it. With my teammates we won silver in the team pursuit in Rio and bronze here this week, and I just tried to build with that energy and continuation. This had always been a goal and to achieve that just opens your eyes to continue to look forward and find new opportunities and new goals for the future.”

It was a great race for home favourite Yumi Kajihara too who followed the same steady trajectory as Valente to win Japan’s first medal on the track. The bronze medal was won by Kirsten Wild (Netherlands) whose formidable sprint redeemed her bad luck earlier in the event at what is likely her last Olympic Games.

Jennifer Valente (USA) celebrates becoming Olympic champion in the women’s omnium.

The most decorated British Olympian ever

Jason Kenny went into the men’s keirin finals as something of an unknown quantity having missed out on the top spot earlier in the week. The team from the Netherlands proved too strong for the British lineup in the team sprint on August 3rd, and Kenny could only manage eighth in the individual event two days later.

But he was a different man in Sunday’s keirin final. With experience and an all-or-nothing attitude on his side, Kenny flew off the front early on to take his third consecutive Olympic keirin title.

“It was just too big an opportunity, really. I was in [position] one – I didn’t really want to be on the front, I felt like I had a bit of a target on my back with these guys behind. So when I looked back and saw a gap, I gave it a little squeeze and it got bigger, so I just went for it really. 

“I didn’t feel like I was one of the favourites coming into the final – I wasn’t as quick as I wanted to be in the sprint and team sprint, so I kind of felt like I had nothing to lose and just put my head down and went for it. It was such a long way, it felt like the last lap took me about half an hour, but I got there in the end. I couldn’t believe I crossed the line on my own.”

This gold medal is historic in a number of ways. Kenny is not only the first athlete from any country to win eight Olympic medals on the track, but he has also overtaken Bradley Wiggins as the most successful British Olympian of all time, with seven golds and two silvers across four games.

Jason Kenny (Great Britain) celebrates winning the men’s keirin at the Tokyo Olympics.

A second ever track gold for Canada

Sunday’s first track cycling gold medal was won by Kelsey Mitchell in the women’s sprint. The Canadian only needed two of the three heats to out-sprint Olena Starikova (Ukraine), starting her acceleration early both times.

“I had raced a lot of my races from the back, coming around, and I knew I had a long sprint in me,” Mitchell said. “I was just going to leave it all out there and decided to go a little early and hopefully I’d be able to hold on.”

Mitchell is only the second Canadian track cyclist to win an Olympic gold medal, the first won by Lori-Ann Muenzer in 2004, also in the women’s sprint event. But what makes Mitchell’s victory even sweeter is that she only started cycling in 2017. Four years later, she’s on the top step of the podium.

“People talk about visualisation a lot in sports, and I don’t know if I did it on purpose, but I could see myself on the podium,” Mitchell said. “I decided to go and execute it, so I am super excited to step on that first step.”

Kelsey Mitchell (Canada) celebrates victory in the women’s sprint at the Tokyo Olympics.

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