Perfect Ballanger launches golden run
In 1992 the French cyclist Félicia Ballanger had narrowly missed out on a medal in the sprint, losing the bronze to Ingrid Haringa of the Netherlands. Spurred on by the memory of that defeat at Atlanta 1996, she was determined not to go home empty-handed once more.
The intervening years, though, had seen Ballanger grow in stature. Indeed, shortly before the Games, she had made history by coming second in France's men's national championship, and she also travelled to Atlanta as the reigning world champion. Standing in her way, though, were the 1992 Olympic champion Erika Salumäe and Haringa, the woman who had beaten her to the bronze in Barcelona.
Ballanger was second quickest in qualifying, behind Australia’s Michelle Ferris. By contrast Salumäe only just qualified and looked well short of her best form. She was then paired with Ballanger, and the contest proved less monumental than some had expected, with the French rider winning in two straight races.
In the semi-final, Ballanger now faced Germany’s Annett Neumann, who had won silver four years earlier. Once again the French cyclists form and sheer speed saw her power through in straight races. She had now reached the final without losing a single race, and she preserved her perfect record in her showdown with Ferris, beating the Australian 2-0 to seal the gold medal.
It was the start of a great run that saw Ballanger establish herself as the leading female track cyclist of the late 1990s. She won the world title again in 1996, and then defended it a further three times. In 2000, Ballanger defended her sprint title and also won the 500m time trial before retiring from the sport.