It's staggering to think that the Velodrome, the venue for Track Cycling at London 2012, only holds a capacity of 6000. If ticket demand was anything to go by it could have easily been three-times the size and still been a sell out. But, if the adage of small packages and good things has taught us anything it's that passion will always triumph over largesse.
The compact lines of the venue, the low roof and enclosed ventilation systems make the Velodrome both a sauna, and a hot bed for fans to cheer their heroes along. It is an impressive venue; both aesthetically and acoustically it's probably the best of all on the Olympic Park. From entering Stratford Gate, it's a long walk - probably the longest, but pilgrimages are often about sufferance and there are plenty of treat huts on the way.
Attending the big curtain-up on Thursday, you immediately noticed that the crowd weren't made up of those disinterested or just happy to be there. This was real home advantage stuff. Union Jacks were tacked on to every railing and balcony possible. There were fears that such a small venue would lose its soul to the sponsors come Games time, after a magical atmosphere was created during the test event in February. They couldn't have been further from the truth. The two main stands (i.e. the straights) were walls of British sound.
This first session was a treat for Team GB fans, with Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton riding in the Women's Team Sprint, and Sir Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes in the Men's version. Our Men's Team Pursuiters also rode in the prelims.
Indeed the afternoon got off to the perfect start with the women racing all the way through to the final first, only for controversy to strike. In GB's key showdown with Ukraine in the first round, Pendleton and Varnish rode the fastest time of the round both defeating their opponents and securing a place in the gold medal showdown. However, a technical infringement led to them being relegated out of the medal spots. It was as if the officials had taken a pin and burst a big red, white and blue balloon. The atmosphere had completely collapsed, as spectators looked on at the distraught GB ladies. In the end the show went on, though nerves were abound as the team sprint men went through their first round into the medal races.
Taking fan idiom to one side, Chris Hoy is just the sort of figure you want to see emerging from a locker room or tunnel in your colours. He just gets things done, and there was no doubt his experience helped this trio bond and get their act together after a disappointing show in Melbourne earlier in the year. Team GB won the final in 42.600, beating long-time rivals France into second place and setting a new world record (several, across all the disciplines were smashed in the same afternoon).
We had our first Track Gold of the summer, and those assembled had not yet learned of our winning exploits in other sports that afternoon. The cacophony of sound generated in the Velodrome will live long in the memories of those who attended.
And it's only day one!
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