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Never better than when Olympic medals are at stake, Great Britain’s Jason Kenny enjoyed a Rio 2016 to remember. As well as retaining his individual and team sprint titles, he added the keirin for good measure to take his collection of golds to six, the same number as compatriot and fellow cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, and more than any other British athlete in the history of the Games.
Born in Bolton, north west England, Jason Kenny took up track cycling at the age of 15, and won European and world junior individual and team sprint and keirin titles in 2006. Two years later, a 20-year-old Kenny took on fellow countryman Sir Chris Hoy in the Olympic individual sprint final at Beijing 2008. Beaten in the first two races by the Scot, he had to settle for silver. It was Kenny’s second medal of his maiden Games, the first having come three days earlier, when he linked up with Hoy and Jamie Staff to beat reigning three-time world champions France in the team sprint final. The British trio’s time of 42.950 was a new world record. In winning gold and silver at the first attempt, the young Bolton flyer had set a standard he would more than match in Games to come.
In the years between Beijing 2008 and London 2012, Kenny was invariably upstaged by France’s Grégory Baugé at the UCI World Championships. The only exception came in 2011 in Appeldorn (NED), where the Frenchman was disqualified after winning the first two races in the final, handing Kenny the title. Baugé was back on top in April 2012 in Melbourne (AUS), just a few months before the London Olympics, collecting another world gold at the Englishman’s expense. When their home Games eventually came around, Kenny and his British team-mates Hoy and Philip Hindes got off to the best of starts in the team sprint, posting an Olympic record of 43.065 in qualification. They followed up with a new world record of 42.747 in their first-round race against Japan, before going even faster to beat the French trio of Baugé, Michael d’Almeida and Kévin Sireau to the gold, Kenny and his colleagues posting another world-record time of 42.600.
Kenny was in majestic form in the individual sprint four days later, picking off his opponents one by one before seeing off old rival Baugé in two races in the final to clinch his third Olympic gold and send the home crowd wild. “I didn’t ride a great race in the final, if I’m honest. I just let the crowd carry me over the line,” said the new Olympic champion, who was selected for the event ahead of Hoy and was only too happy to deliver the gold he was certain his team-mate would also have won.
The following year, Kenny scored what he regards as one of the finest and most unexpected wins of his whole career, landing the world keirin title in Minsk (BLR). Having performed below his best in the world championships leading up to London 2012, not unlike the rest of the all-conquering British team, Kenny held nothing back in the 2016 Track Cycling World Championships, held in the British capital in March, where the three-time Olympic champion revealed his hunger for more success by winning individual sprint gold. “Jason sees the Olympics as the end goal and he has a plan to get there,” said former team-mate Hoy. “It’s not that he doesn’t want to win. He doesn’t go to the worlds or a World Cup thinking: 'I cannot be bothered’. He still wants to do it. There is obviously something that doesn’t quite engage mentally or physically until it really counts. It’s quite a nice thing to have in many ways because his rivals will be terrified. They won’t know what is happening with him.”
Kenny proved Hoy right at Rio 2016, where he enjoyed a stunning Games. After winning his third straight team pursuit gold, this time in the company of Hindes and the hugely promising Callum Skinner and at the expense of Australia in the final, he retained his individual title by outpacing Skinner in the gold medal match “People keep saying I have won five, but I don’t feel any different from the other day when I only had three,” said Kenny, who did not stop there.
A few days later, Kenny did just as Hoy had done at Beijing 2008 and took the keirin title, the Englishman crossing the line 0.04 seconds ahead of Matthijs Buchli of the Netherlands. In doing so, he matched the Scot’s tally of six Olympic golds, a British record. “I was in Beijing when Chris rocketed to stardom,” said Kenny. “To be doing the same thing eight years later is amazing. It’s an incredible feeling.” Giving his view of the Bolton rider’s achievement, Hoy said: “Jason was untouchable in Rio. He was on a different planet. He coped with a huge amount of pressure and he’s a true champion.”