won Olympic gold for the Netherlands in the women’s keirin on Thursday, six years after a heart attack almost ended her career. Braspennincx edged out New Zealand’s Ellesse Andrews by 0.061sec to win an enthralling final at the Izu Velodrome, with Canada’s Lauriane Genest taking bronze.
The victory continued an impressive showing for the Netherlands, who now own eight cycling medals at Tokyo 2020 and the joint-most golds on four. Britain also have four golds across the cycling programme after Matthew Walls stormed to victory in the men’s omnium, shortly after Braspennincx’s momentous win.
The 30-year-old’s triumph marks an incredible comeback from a heart attack she suffered in hospital after she felt unwell during a race in 2015.
“I thought it was the end of my career,” said Braspennincx.
“A heart attack isn’t normal when you’re an athlete riding a race.
“It was a long six or seven months to see if I could get the green light to be an athlete again and even then it wasn’t smooth sailing (to get) back to my old level.
“It took a few years to get back to my old level and get trust in my body again because it kind of left me.” Braspennincx said she still takes prescription pills after her right artery was “completely clogged”.
“I take prescription pills but I go full gas in races. Otherwise you can’t be an Olympic champion,” she said.
“I had great help, medically, mentally and physically. I still have it. I know my body though through and through and I think that’s an advantage I have now.”
Braspennincx won a silver medal in women’s keirin at the world championships in 2015 but her Olympic triumph is another upset in one of cycling’s most unpredictable disciplines.
Invented in Japan in 1948, the keirin involves riders lurking behind a pacemaker before exploding into a sprint for the last two-and-a-half laps.
Braspennincx was the first to make the move and while Andrews attempted a comeback, the Dutchwoman could not be caught.
The Netherlands briefly led Britain in the cycling medal table until Walls completed a convincing victory in the omnium, finishing 24 points ahead of New Zealand’s Campbell Stewart and a further five clear of Italy’s Elia Viviani.
The 23-year-old signalled his potential by winning omnium bronze at the world championships last year but this is his first appearance at an Olympics and he rose to the occasion.
After settling for silver medals in the men’s team sprint and women’s team pursuit earlier this week, Britain now have a first velodrome gold to make it eight cycling medals in total.
The omnium is made up of four different races – the scratch, tempo, elimination and points – with riders scoring points in each to make an overall total.
Walls was among the leaders from the start, as a pack of five pulled away in the scratch race before the Briton powered through to win.
He finished third in the tempo, leaving a top three of Walls, France’s Benjamin Thomas and Jan Willem van Schip of the Netherlands all level.
But both Thomas and Van Schip slipped up in the elimination, giving Walls a four-point lead heading into the final race.
Walls never let go of his lead, gaining a lap on the field early on in the points race and holding off both Campbell and a surging Viviani to extend his advantage and win gold.
There was disappointment for Britain’s Jason Kenny, the reigning champion in the men’s sprint, as he was outclassed by Dutch world champion Harrie Lavreysen.
Defeat ended Kenny’s hopes of a third consecutive gold medal in the event and leaves Lavreysen as the favourite on Friday.
“I don’t expect to be the best all time, it’s really hard to win,” said Kenny, who has won six gold medals in track cycling over his career. “These boys are just better and that’s the way it is.”
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini