How Kenny and Archibald pulled off a magical madison for Olympic gold | Tokyo Olympics 2020

Mseeing the unpredictable is predictable is a measure of greatness in sport. Seen against the backdrop, Laura Kenny and Katie Archibald’s dominant race in the Izu Velodrome Madison will be considered one of the greatest moments of this year’s Olympic Games.

For Kenny, there was hardly a more fitting way to become Britain’s most decorated Olympian, taking her personal record to five gold and one silver over three Games; for Archibald, it was surely an omen of more titles to come. For the 28 other competitors, it was 32min 49sec to wonder what had hit them.

It is extremely rare in any sport to see this degree of control in a discipline that is so multidimensional, constantly bombarding the senses with physical and mental crossfire: tactics, handling the bike, and the urge to predict – the better. that a cyclist can – what the other 29 riders on the track could do and where they are heading. The essence of a madison is that it’s hardly possible to keep track of what’s going on from the outside, let alone keep any hold on the run from the inside.

Implementing a tactic in madison races is devilishly difficult, but there is one that teams try frequently. When a team changes at any point, it takes up space in front of the other runners, who must pass the top as the duo briefly run hand in hand. The opponent has to go further – and therefore faster – to pass, while hoping that the changing pair doesn’t wobble or veer on the track, all at around 60-70km / h.

It follows that if a team goes at a strategic point in preparation for one of the race-deciding sprints, they have a much better chance of taking the points. The best time to do this is between a turn and a half and a half turn before the sprint, as the next runners in a row have neither the time nor the space to assemble. It requires such precise timing of speed and position that teams can handle it multiple times in the race distance, but, time and time again in Tokyo, Kenny and Archibald have designed each other to create a place where it s. is precisely produced.

It helps explain why they managed to win 10 of the 12 sprints on offer, dominating the points table as the race was as good as won by three quarters of a distance. But the fact that the other teams knew exactly what they were doing and couldn’t stop them from doing it indicates a rare level of physical and psychological dominance. It’s another sign of sporting greatness: the ability to find the space exactly where you want it, and do it so often it’s anything but fluke.

Katie Archibald (left) and Laura Kenny at their medal ceremony. Photography: Thibault Camus / AP

The precise way the pair consistently timed their changes for this ‘red zone’ may have been aided by a clever choice of highly visible yellow hats, a classic example of the now ridiculed ‘marginal gains’ approach. This was also what Kenny meant before when she said that she and Archibald had instinctively become aware of what the other was thinking in the Speed ​​and Milling Bodies, aided by their early appointment as the final match. for discipline. And once again, she paid tribute to the training races between men under 23 and juniors organized by their new trainer, Monica Greenwood.

The duo were aided by the 50-lap mass stacking, in which their biggest rivals, Kirsten Wild and Amy Pieters, were held up with Wild having to stand up after Lotte Kopecky of Belgium straddled his prone body; without the crash, it’s hard to see the Dutch missing the vital turn gain that sealed Kenny and Archibald’s dominance. But in a madison, the teams make their own luck. There are often crashes at the back of the peloton where riders try to change and stay clear of other changes through a fog of fatigue. Kenny and Archibald rarely ventured off the first wheels, which again suggested that they were physically well ahead of most opponents.

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The last three laps encapsulated the history of all 120. In an alternate sporting world with the race won by a street, one would have expected the magical duo to relax, relish the golden moment and let Russia, Denmark and the Netherlands retire for the rest of the podium. But no, it was time for the cycling equivalent of the star striker to appear in a fifth because the goal just happens to be open.

Here came Archibald tearing the ground to shreds yet again. Here comes one last change for Kenny on the bell. Here came a scorching sprint with the rest nowhere, one last burst of speed for hell. Kenny will have a really big goal on her back when she goes for the No.6 gold in Sunday’s omnium, but on such form it’s hard to see what a difference it will make.

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