Where to begin when celebrating the achievements of an athlete such as Laura Kenny? With her Olympic gold medal in the women’s madison, seized with unshakeable confidence alongside her riding partner Katie Archibald, at the Izu Velodrome on Friday?
Or with her status, thanks to that victory, as Britain’s most decorated female Olympian, level with the equestrian Charlotte Dujardin with a haul of six medals? Perhaps it would be more appropriate to mention first that she is the only British woman to win a gold medal at three successive Games. And then there is the small matter of her status as the most successful female cyclist in Olympic history, surpassing the Dutchwoman Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel.
After embracing Archibald on the podium, Kenny – with five Olympic gold medals and a silver to her name – narrowed her focus to a second straight day of spirited British cycling at Izu, where they dominated the field and wowed local spectators whose willingness to observe rules discouraging cheering appears to be weakening by the day.
Kenny had punched the air in front of those same fans at the end of the first Olympic women’s madison, the climax of 120 laps of what at times appeared chaotic but for which the British pair had a masterplan they executed with terrifying precision.
“I think they’re making these records up as they go along,” joked Kenny who – if she can bear to process another statistic – is only a single Olympic gold behind her husband, Jason, who could add to his six in the men’s keirin at the weekend. Laura can also increase her own medal total in the omnium on Sunday.
After the team pursuit missteps earlier in the week, some of the tension that seemed to hover around Team GB is lifting after two days in which they have claimed golds in the madison, the men’s omnium and, as Friday’s racing drew to a close, a bronze medal for Jack Carlin in the men’s individual sprint.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m just so glad,” Kenny said. “I’ve never wanted to win a race so badly in all my life. That was the one. I messaged Jason this morning and said: ‘I feel like my Olympics ends today.’ The one race I really wanted to do was this, and we went and did it.”
Its Olympic debut status means there is no precedent in which to frame Kenny and Archibald’s madison feat, but even so, the details suggest a win this comprehensive is unlikely to be repeated soon. By the end of the 120 laps, they had won 10 of the 12 sprints – including the double points for the last lap – to finish with 78 points, more than twice the tally of second-placed Denmark on 35.
Asked what it felt like to be become the first female British Olympian to win a gold medal at three successive Olympics, Kenny told the BBC: “It’s unbelievable. I am just so glad. I have never wanted to win a race so badly in my life. It was giving me fears like never before. But we went and did it.”
And she had a message for her son, Albie, at home in the UK. “I have never missed him so much in all my life. It’s so hard leaving him at home. To have Katie here – it feels as if I am racing with my sister. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Archibald, celebrating her second Olympic gold medal five years after victory in the team pursuit in Rio, admitted that nerves had threatened to get the better of her on the morning of the race.
“I’ve never wanted something so much and I’ve never been so nervous,” she said, before thanking their coach, Monica Greenwood. “We’ve been really clinical in our approach to this, none of this would have happened without Monica. We had a change of coach last year, totally overhauled our entire approach to this event.
“I feel like we’re going after the all-round at this track Olympics spreading between madison and omnium, and it feels so satisfying for it to come off.”
The British pair looked in control from the start, winning the first three sprints on the track and then further extending their advantage after the Dutch pair of Kirsten Wild and Amy Pieters, the reigning world champions, were caught in a crash with a little over 70 laps remaining.
In the second half of the race the British duo got themselves in a series of breakaways, hoovering up points in the sprints and gaining a lap with a little over 20 to go to build an all-but-insurmountable lead.
The second half of the track cycling events at Tokyo 2020 are proving more fertile ground for Team GB. While the scale of Kenny and Archibald’s achievement was still sinking in, Carlin beat the ROC’s Dennis Dmitriev 2-0 to take the bronze medal in the men’s sprint.
The Dutch rider Harrie Lavreysen rallied to win gold after his compatriot, Jeffrey Hoogland, won the first race of the best-of-three final.
Carlin could add to his haul when he competes in the keirin. “It was a tough day today, I didn’t have the same in the legs as I did yesterday but I gave it my all and managed to come away with something,” he said.
A day after Katy Marchant’s involvement in a crash that saw the Dutch rider Laurine van Riessen sprawled on the track with concussion, she advanced to the quarter-finals of the women’s sprint.
“I wasn’t 100% sure how I was feeling this morning,” said Marchant, who broke her own British record in qualifying, eighth fastest. “I was still a little bit battered and bruised after yesterday. But the legs are feeling good. It’s just riding through the rounds now and hopefully after another night’s sleep tonight I’ll feel even better tomorrow.”