Olympics-Cycling-British wonder Walls rides to omnium gold
Newsfrom JapanTokyo 2020
By Martyn Herman
IZU, Japan (Reuters) -Matt Walls delivered a first track cycling gold medal for Britain at the Tokyo Olympics with a dominant ride in the men's omnium at the Izu Velodrome on Thursday.
Walls was consistent throughout the four-part event and always looked in charge after a superb start to the points race, the climax to a gruelling afternoon of racing.
Italian Elia Viviani, who won the title in Rio in 2016, had to settle for a bronze medal after New Zealand's Campbell Stewart moved through the field for a silver.
Track powerhouse Britain had had a mediocre start to the track programme, with several of the titles they won in Rio falling by the wayside.
But Walls lifted morale as he claimed the omnium title with 153 points to the 129 of Stewart and Viviani's 124.
World champion Benjamin Thomas was knocked off the podium after a storming finish by Stewart who gained a lap late on.
"I don't think I realise it yet. I'm sure I'll wake up tomorrow actually realising what I've done," said Walls, who rides on the road with pro team Bora–Hansgrohe.
"It's been a long road, through all this pandemic and not much racing. The last track racing I did was the Euros (European championships), last year. So I didn't really know how I was doing coming here. But it's all been worth it."
Walls had begun the day by winning the scratch race but after the tempo race, a new addition to the Olympic omnium, he found himself tied at the top of the leaderboard with Thomas and Dutchman Jan Willem van Schip.
The 23-year-old Briton was relentless though, surviving until the last two in the elimination race, won by a burst from Viviani.
With a slender lead going into the 100-lap points race, Walls took the initiative as he gained a lap on his rivals for gold and won the first of the 10 sprints for a 25-point boost.
After that it was a matter of staying out of trouble and guarding against any attacks and hoping that he did not hit the wall after his searing early pace.
Eyes fixed on the track ahead, he never wavered and he ticked down the laps to leave the rest scrapping for silver and bronze.
All that was left to do was grab a British flag for a joyous lap of honour around the oval.
"I managed to get a good lead coming into the end. It's been a hard day but I came into that points race with a bit of a lead and breathing space," Walls said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Hugh Lawson and Clare Fallon)
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