Wiggins exits the stage as Britain's most decorated Olympian ever
Cycling Track

Wiggins exits the stage as Britain's most decorated Olympian ever

13 August 2016 / 06:22

There’s an art to exiting the stage and leaving the crowd wanting more and Sir Bradley Wiggins found a way to time it to perfection.menspursuitGettyImages-588560972There was a certain inevitability to his final Olympic appearance, as alongside Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Owain Doull he claimed the team pursuit title in Rio.

It was his fifth career gold and his eighth medal - overtaking Sir Chris Hoy as Britain’s most decorated Olympian in the process.

It was the only medal he wanted, he’d gone on record as saying anything else wouldn’t matter.

Though, of course, he didn’t need another gold to prove a point - from his eight rainbow jerseys to his Tour de France victory, his position as a British sporting icon is long secure.

Four years ago he famously sat on a wonderfully kitsch gilded throne, after claiming time trial gold in the shadow of Hampton Court.

This time he briefly collapsed into a white folding chair, as the enormity of his and his team-mates’ achievement hit home.

And what a race it was, as the Australian quarter of Alex Edmondson, Jack Bobridge, Michael Hepburn and Sam Welford seized an early lead that peaked at well over half a second.

But Wiggins and team had a game plan and they stuck to it, though they didn’t overhaul their rivals' advantage until the last 400m of the 4,000m race. For pure and undiluted tension, this will take some beating in the days ahead.

They stopped the clock at 3:50.265, nearly a second and a half quicker than their world record from four years ago.britishflagsGettyImages-588946988“It is hard to come off and not just spout a load of clichés and emotional stuff,” said Wiggins.

“It’s more relief than anything there, Owain was punching the air and I’m just saying to myself – thank God that is over. It’s something to tell the kids about when they are older.

“It has been a burden – when you live with it every day but it’s gone now. I wanted to go out like this, I didn’t want it to end in some little race in the north of France in the rain.

“Two years ago we got annihilated at the Commonwealth Games. I came back, gave up the road, gave up the big salary and was just a number again, I had to start from the bottom and here we are.

“I knew it would take a world record to win and it did. I now get to be Olympic champion again – I have been one for 12 years, so I have got used to it.

“For the last 12 months everyone has been saying: ‘Is he too old at 36?’. But there you go – the legs do the talking and I’m happy and content with what I have done.

“Ed and Burkey are two of the most underrated athletes I have ever raced with. They are so talented at what they do but they don’t get the credit for it because they are not big road stars.

“Doully reminds me of a young Geraint Thomas and he can do anything in the sport, nothing phases him. When you’re with guys like that it makes my job a hell of a lot easier.”

Women's team pursuit Rio 2016Wiggins admitted his return to track cycling, after spending so many years focussed on the road, was a risk and the fear of failure was tangible.

The team pursuit squad had moved on in his absence, winning gold in London without their talisman, who focussed his attention on the road and the time trial.

But they had not won a world title in four years and finished second to Australia at the World Championships in London earlier this year.

It seemed, after years of dominance, that the rest of the world - Australia, Denmark and New Zealand - had finally caught up.

But Wiggins drags those around him up by the force of his personality - he doesn’t settle for second best and he didn’t want to end his career with anything other than a fifth Olympic gold, to add to his silver and two bronzes from five Games appearances.

There was talk from their training base in Wales they were going well, gossip on social media that they’d been setting world record times in training.

“I’ve not done this for records or to be called the best or whatever, just to be mentioned in the same breath as people like Sir Steve Redgrave or Sir Chris Hoy is an honour for me, they’re two of my heroes,” added Wiggins, as he was embraced by Britain’s other two Olympic knights.

“I never considered that I’ll be up there with them, that’s never driven me, I’ve never thought about it. I just wanted to come here and enjoy these Olympic Games and win this medal, that’s all.

“I take myself back to Sydney in 2000 as an 20-year-old and wandering around there after Steve had won his fifth gold and thinking how incredible that was.

“I had come away with a bronze medal and I thought to myself, if that’s it for me then I’ll go down the job centre next week but I can always say I have got an Olympic bronze.

“To sit here 16 years on with five gold medals myself, I never imagined that for one minute.”

By James Toney, Sportsbeat, in Rio

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