Golden hour: Track cyclists make spectacular start to Commonwealth Games

Aaron Gate knew New Zealand was on track for their first gold medal of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games when he heard the home crowd at the Lee Valley VeloPark in London go silent.

New Zealand track cyclists claimed four medals, two golds, a silver and a bronze, within quick succession during a special opening day in the velodrome on Saturday (NZT).

The men’s team pursuit won the first gold, holding off hosts England by two seconds to claim the country’s first gold medal in the event since Gary Anderson, Nigel Donnelly, Glenn McCleay and Staurt Williams won on home soil in 1990.

Campbell Stewart, Tom Sexton, Aaron Gate and Jordan Kerby celebrate after winning the gold medal in the men's team pursuit.

Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Campbell Stewart, Tom Sexton, Aaron Gate and Jordan Kerby celebrate after winning the gold medal in the men’s team pursuit.

The quartet of Gate, Jordan Kerby, Tom Sexton and Campbell Stewart bounced back from the disappointment of last year’s Tokyo Olympics, where they crashed out of the bronze medal race while leading Australiato win the final in a new Commonwealth Games record time of 3:47.575.

“When the crowd started going a bit quieter [we knew we had won],” a delighted Gate told Sky Sport.

“With a few laps to go there it was like oh, they’re not making much noise any more, hopefully it’s a good thing for us.

“Finally when we crossed the line, I looked up and saw them still coming out of the back straight, it was a massive sigh of relief.”

The lead changed hands multiple times during a pulsating start to the 4000m men’s team pursuit final but the New Zealanders finished the stronger of the two teams and never looked back after opening up a 1-second lead following a massive turn at the front from Sexton.

Sexton dropped away leaving Gate, Kerby and Stewart to finish the job for the fastest qualifiers, who came to Birmingham determined to make amends for the Olympics.

“It was an incredible night,” Stewart said. “We set it up in qualifying. We had a few things we had to work on. We went out there tonight and we knew we had to go faster.

Olivia King hugs team-mate Rebecca Petch after winning a gold medal in the women's team sprint.

Ian Walton/AP

Olivia King hugs team-mate Rebecca Petch after winning a gold medal in the women’s team sprint.

“Every single one of these guys committed 100% and the team behind us, they were all there for us and it all came together perfectly as we saw out there.”

The recently-formed women’s team sprint combination of Rebecca Petch, Olivia King and Ellesse Andrews followed suit, beating Canada in a new Commonwealth Games record time of 47.425 in their final.

Petch represented New Zealand in BMX at the Tokyo Olympics and only jumped on a track bike for the first time eight months ago.

But she got the New Zealand trio off to the perfect start, opening up a .3 second lead after the first lap. Canada closed the gap during King’s leg before Andrews, a silver medalist in the keirin at last year’s Olympics, powered home to secure the gold medal.

Emily Shearman, Bryony Botha and Michaela Drummond celebrate after winning a silver medal in the women's team pursuit.

Ian Walton/AP

Emily Shearman, Bryony Botha and Michaela Drummond celebrate after winning a silver medal in the women’s team pursuit.

Andrews had earlier ridden to the women’s pursuit team’s rescue to ensure they could still compete before they won a silver medal.

Andrews volunteered her services to the endurance team when Ally Wollaston was ruled out with an injury on the eve of the Games.Wollaston crashed at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes and fractured her wrist, one day before she was set to leave for England.

New Zealand were well beaten by Australia in the gold medal race but they put in a gutsy ride given they effectively only had three riders.

With the women’s team sprint final taking place an hour after the team pursuit Andrews dropped away as soon as the starter’s gun fired, leaving Bryony Botha, Michaela Drummond and Emily Shearman to slog it out against four Australian riders.

New Zealand was behind at every checkpoint and finished five seconds off the pace, with Australia finishing strong over the final lap to set a new Commonwealth Games record of 4:12.234.Botha was part of the New Zealand team that also won a silver medal on the Gold Coast in 2018.

“We started today not knowing what we could do. We only had three riders. We had no idea that at the end of the day we’d be on the second step of the podium,” Botha told Sky Sport.

“We’re extremely proud and we’re so happy with what we’ve done today.”

The New Zealand men’s sprint team of Bradly Knipe, Sam Dakin and Sam Webster added a fourth medal by beating Canada in the bronze medal race in a time of 43.856.

They missed out on a shot at gold after only qualifying third fastest.

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