Meares confirms her greatness

Roger Vaughan, NZ Newswire August 8, 2012, 11:57 am

Anna Meares might need a year to process the enormity of what she has just done.

The Australian track cycling legend confirmed her lofty status by beating arch-rival Victoria Pendleton to win the sprint gold medal at the Olympics.

Meares thinks she wants to go on to the Rio Games, but first she will take a sabbatical that could last 12 months.

If she changes her mind, no-one could begrudge Meares for deciding she has had enough.

It was entirely fitting - and the dream result for Olympics organisers - that Meares and Pendleton clashed for gold on the last night of the track program.

They have been at each other's throats on the track for the better part of a decade, transfixing the cycling public with their rivalry.

Meares sent Pendleton into retirement with a 2-0 win in their best-of-three final.

Naturally, there was controversy - the British star won the first heat by barely a tyre width, but was relegated for an illegal move.

Pendleton was furious, Meares was pumped and the Australian went on to convincingly win the second heat for the gold medal.

"This is not a sport where we're out there to have a cup of tea, this is a sport where you're rubbing elbows and you're travelling at 65-70km/h," Meares told Channel Nine.

"Both of us had a lot of weight and pressure on our shoulders to take that gold medal.

"And that will go down as something sweet for me."

Immediately after winning the final, Meares sobbed as she hugged coach Gary West trackside and then her husband Mark Chadwick at the fence.

There were also tears in the velodrome basement as Meares and Pendleton waited for the medal ceremony.

In a private moment, Pendleton graciously congratulated Meares as they ended years of mind games.

"She gave me a hug and said that I deserved it, that I was a great champion," Meares said.

"I just broke into tears - that was very, very kind."

There's been talk for months about whether they could ever share a drink together again - they later separately said that would be a wonderful idea.

Meares' win came eight years after her first Olympic gold medal, four years after nearly ending up a quadriplegic and then winning Olympic silver, then four days after one of the worst races of her career.

On Friday she finished second-last in the keirin final, which Pendleton won.

"I never felt like such a failure or such a let down in my entire life. That was very tough," she said.

Chadwick knew exactly what Meares needed to help her bounce back - chocolate.

"My husband was extraordinary ... he made me break my chocolate ban," she said.

Meares, effectively the Australian track cycling captain, also gave their London campaign a massive final boost.

They finished with one gold, a silver and three bronze, with Annette Edmondson also finishing third on Tuesday in the omnium.

It was well below what they would have wanted - and way behind Great Britain's seven gold medals from the 10 track events - but also a vast improvement on the one silver that Australia won in Beijing.

"It was extra emotional as well, the entire Australian cycling team was standing in front of me (at the medal ceremony)," she said.

"It was the first time our anthem had played at the velodrome this entire tournament."

After all that, no wonder Meares needs a break.

"You may not see me for a year, just so I can ... give back to my family and friends," she said.

"I will take some time to myself as well and walk away from the emotion, the highs and lows of this, and then really feel if Rio is for me."

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