Tokyo Olympics track cycling: Matt Walls wins gold medal for Team GB in men’s omnium
Great Britain’s Matt Walls has won the gold medal in the men’s omnium at the Tokyo Olympics.
The 23-year-old from Oldham won the four-discipline event with a comfortable final margin of 24 points from Campbell Stewart of New Zealand.
He had won the opening scratch race and went into the deciding points race with a narrow advantage of just six points but gained a lap on the field early on.
He could then mark his rivals for the remainder of the 100-lap event.
Walls said after the race: "I managed to get a good lead coming to the end so I was just playing it really.
"It's been a hard day. I came into that points race with a bit of a lead, which was nice. It gave me a bit of breathing room."
He thanked his family and friends, and said: "I wouldn’t be here without them, especially my parents. When I was younger growing up, they travelled around the country with me and there’s no chance I’d be here without them.”
The omnium has changed format this year, with four events squeezed into one afternoon.
Walls jointly led alongside Jan Willem Van Schip and Benjamin Thomas after the tempo race, but then outlasted the pair in the elimination race to take a narrow advantage into the decider.
He wasted little time in taking control as he gained a lap alongside American Gavin Hoover, winning the second sprint in the process.
That gave him a cushion of 30 points over the field, and from then on he could mark the likes of reigning champion Elia Viviani, Thomas and Stewart to the finish.
This is the first men’s Olympic omnium gold for Britain, with Ed Clancy having takenbronze in London in 2012 and Mark Cavendish silver in Rio.
After testing positive for Covid-19 in late March, Walls' season on the road with WorldTour road team Bora-Hansgrohe was disrupted. He returned to compete in the Tour de Suisse in June.
Walls said: “There was a bit of an unknown because the last track race I did was the Euros lastyear.
“But I’ve been going well on the road, getting in some quality racing this year so I knew I was good coming in. I just didn’t know how it would translate on the track, how the tactics would be, because it had been so long.
“But I came into the scratch race feeling good, came away with that win and then I knew I’d got a chance as long as I played it smart. I knew I’d got the legs so it could work out and it did.”
Jason Kenny, who came last in the men’s sprint placement race to finish eighth in the competition overall, said of Walls' achievement: “It never looked in doubt from the moment he rolled off the start line
"He’s my room-mate but I can’t take all the credit, obviously. He’s just a proper racer. He lives to race and lets his racing do the talking.
"He’s a proper hardworking young lad, as good as anyone. You get the feeling watching him that he’s not thinking about it, it’s happening naturally and that’s the best way to be.”
Kenny spoke about his own race on Thursday: “I was just taking it one ride at a time but once I (lost) against Dmitriev it was hard, the repechage was absolutely savage and then I was straight back up against the fastest guys in the field.
“It was always going to be tough from then on. It’s one of those things. It’s just where I am physically at the minute.
“I don’t expect to be the fastest in the world every time. It’s really hard to win at the end of the day. It was a really hard five years and it will be really hard tomorrow for whoever takes it.”
Britain had settled for silver in the women’s team pursuit and men’s team sprint on Tuesday. In the men’s team pursuit, another event that Team GB previously dominated, the team finished in seventh place.
Walls will focus on the Madison this weekend, riding with his Manchester housemate Ethan Hayter.
In other Olympic news, Great Britain's Liam Heath won a kayaking bronze medal in the men’s K1 200m at Sea Forest Waterway earlier today.
Heath, who won gold in the individual 200m kayak sprint and silver in the men's double in Rio, said "every medal is special and has their own unique place in my heart".