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First, in their heat against Australia, the Americans, led by Sarah Hammer, had lowered the mark to 12.282 a full second faster than the record set by the British quartet a day earlier; but their place in the history books lasted a matter of minutes as the British then reduced it further to 4:12.152 in the following heat.
In the final, the anticipated close battle turned into a romp for Great Britain as they swept aside their American rivals, setting yet another world record, and matching the achievement of their male counterparts the day before.
After trailing early on the British quartet of Laura Trott, Katie Archibald, Elinor Barker and Joanna Rowsell-Shand cranked up the pace to devastating effect, winning in 4:10.236 -- nearly two seconds quicker than the world record they set in the heats, and half a second faster than the American quartet could manage in the final.
It was a third Olympic gold for 24-year-old Trott, who won gold in both the team pursuit and omnium at London 2012.
“I couldn't be more proud of our team. It was about four individuals riding around as one. I've never been in a team that feels so seamless,” said Trott, who will later attempt to take her gold medal count to four with a successful defence of her omnium title. “We broke the world record in training so we knew a world record was on the cards in the qualifier. To come away with a time of 4.10 was honestly incredible.”
Canada secured only its second Olympic medal in women's track cycling, beating New Zealand for bronze.
British hopes of a second track cycling gold medal in a matter of minutes were dashed as the Netherlands’ Elis Ligtlee took the women’s keirin title, ahead of Great Britain’s Becky James.
Over eight laps of the velodrome, in which chess-style tactics give way to pure speed in the final stages, it was. James stormed her way on the outside to creep into silver medal position, ahead of Australia’s Anna Meares. Reigning world champion Kristina Voegel of Germany was nudged out of the medal positions in the dying seconds, and ended up finishing last of the six finalists.
“It's unbelievable. The semi-final didn't go as I had hoped, but in the keirin, anything can happen,” reacted Ligtlee after her victory. “In the final, I raced on intuition. I came from the back, so I had to make two sprints, one to move up, and another in the end. I know I can make a long sprint. And now I am Olympic champion.”
Silver medallist James added: “I knew it was going to be a quick race with all of those good riders in it. I didn't know how far I was going to get but I didn't think I would get anywhere near the medals. I went around that last bend and there were so many of us. I am absolutely thrilled with that medal.”