Jason Kenny became the most successful British Olympian while his wife, Laura Kenny, added her fifth Olympic medal with respective silver medals, the couple’s reign of dominance in the Olympic velodrome ending when they came up short on Tuesday.
Despite losing to the dominant Netherlands in the team sprint final, Kenny’s eighth Olympic medal means he draws level with Sir Bradley Wiggins’s eight and overtakes Sir Chris Hoy’s total, with six gold and two silver.
“It’s nice – limped over the line with a silver,” said Kenny, joking. “Main thing is that I beat Chris because I know it will annoy him. He’s probably going to make a comeback for Paris now. It’s really nice, really special. It is hard – every time I come to the Games it seems to get harder.”
Kenny and his sprint team were beaten in the final by an Olympic record-breaking effort of 41.369sec from the Netherlands. The veteran British sprinter, who had won the event in Beijing, London and Rio, had no excuses. “They were better than us today – simple as that,” he said.
“We did the same thing we always do – we came and emptied the tanks and did our best ride. We pretty much nailed it in the first round – that was pretty much everything we had. Then we rolled the dice in the final and it didn’t go our way.”
Less than half an hour earlier, the Laura Kenny-led women’s team pursuit squad were almost caught as Germany posted a world-record to win the first medal race of day two. The world record fell four times in 24 hours – first by Germany in qualifying, then to Great Britain in the first round, then again to Germany in their heat and once more in the final.
Kenny, a four-time gold medallist, had never previously lost an Olympic final. Britain had dominated the women’s team pursuit since it was added to the Games at London 2012, defending their crown in 2016. But left with bruises after a crash at the end of their heat they were no match for the Germans with their world record of 4min 04.242sec.
“We knew the conditions on this track were going to be good,” Kenny said. “Our target time was a six [4.06]; we just never expected someone to go under a four [4.04]. We should be really proud of doing a 4.06 – that’s really going some. Just right now it feels a little bit disappointing we didn’t get gold by doing so.”
The 29-year-old – Britain’s most decorated female cyclist – said her first Olympic loss hurt. “As an athlete you want to win everything. I don’t think it’s any harder for me than anyone else taking silver. We set out hearts on gold, we wanted to win gold.”
Kenny said Jason, for the first time in their career as teammates, had told her he felt nervous during competition. “That shocked me a bit, but then I saw him go up and break the Olympic record [in Great Britain’s heat] and thought: ‘He’s not nervous.’”
Those nerves proved well founded. While the Netherlands were able to substitute a rider for the final (having brought four sprinters), the British trio of Kenny, Jack Carlin and Ryan Owens had to ride the qualifying, heat and final in less than two hours. “Not to be pessimistic butt hey would have beaten us anyway,” said Kenny.
The disappointment of silver in the men’s team sprint and women’s team pursuit was compounded by a crash in the men’s team pursuit match-up with Denmark. The world champions were far too fast for Britain, who have held the Olympic title since 2008, but there was confusion after the lead Danish rider, Frederik Madsen, hit the back wheel of a dropped British rider, Charlie Tanfield. Eventually, officials confirmed Denmark would race for gold on Wednesday while Great Britain were relegated to seventh.
The three events have been dominated by Great Britain over the past decade. But Jason Kenny was adamant their reign was not over. “We’ve always been on the right side of the few 10ths it takes to win,” he said. “This time we were on the wrong side.”
Laura Kenny said she would rebound for the omnium and madison. “We’ve got two more in the women’s endurance,” she said. “Don’t count us out just yet.”