n a photo shared on social media this week, a young Matt Walls can be seen collecting an autograph from one of his heroes, Ed Clancy.
Thirteen years on, the pair are teammates in Tokyo, and 48 hours after Clancy announced he was bowing out of the sport as one of Britain’s greatest cycling Olympic champions, Walls became its newest, thanks to a magnificent performance in the men’s omnium.
Clancy won bronze in the event when it made its Olympic debut at London 2012 and another British cycling legend, Mark Cavendish, went one better with silver in Rio, but Walls has now completed the set and succeeded where legends like Laura and Jason Kenny came up just short in delivering Team GB’s much-needed first velodrome gold of these Games.
The decision to condense each day’s racing into one short session at these Games has hardly been a popular one among riders. Few can have as much reason to grumble as those taking on the omnium’s gruelling quartet of endurance disciplines in little more than two-and-a-half hours, but at no point during the afternoon was Walls on track for anything but gold.
“I managed to get a good lead,” he said. “It’s been a hard day but I came into the points race with a bit of a lead, a bit of breathing room. It was a good race.
“Thank you to my family and friends, I wouldn’t be here without them. When I was growing up travelling around the country racing, my parents had to do all that. There’s no chance I’d be here without them.”
The Brit got his campaign off to the perfect start in the scratch race joining a breakaway which gained a full lap on the field and then crossing first of that group amid a bunch sprint to take the maximum 40 points.
The chaos of the tempo race came next, where Walls again broke away to gain a lap, worth 20 points, and also picked up three bonus sprint points to share the lead at the midway point with Benjamin Thomas of France and Jan Willem van Schip of the Netherlands and a second-place in the elimination race gave him a four-point cushion going into the finale.
With 100 laps of the points race ahead, the gold was not exactly hanging round Walls’ neck, but yet another early lap gained allowed him to play the role of policeman for much of the contest, monitoring the movements of his potential rivals and covering any moves to go clear.
While Walls had been seeking a first medal, Britain’s most successful Olympian of all-time was in pursuit of his ninth but it was not to be for Jason Kenny, whose reign as the defending individual sprint champion came to an end at the quarter-final stage, Netherlands’ Harrie Lavreysen proving a class apart in their head-to-head clash.
Instead, it will fall on the shoulders of Jack Carlin to try and disrupt the Dutch sprinting supremacy after a string of powerful performances saw the 24-year-old advance to tomorrow’s semi-finals.
While Walls found himself in breaks all day, teammate Katy Marchant, cannot catch one at the moment. On Wednesday, the sprinter thought she had won her heat in the women’s Keirin but was forced to come through the repechage after being relegated to last for a marginal line infringement and on Thursday she could feel even more hard done by as she was wiped out of the competition by Dutch rider Laurine van Riessen, who had to be stretchered off the track after the pair’s dramatic crash.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” she said. “I was so focused on moving forward, and I’m not sure whether she clipped me to the side. She fell, and her wheels just took mine out.
“I felt like I was coming in at the right time. Wrong place, wrong time I guess, but that is bike race.”