GOLD COAST, Australia (Reuters) - Australia’s formidable track cyclists captured a world record and three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday, dominating the opening night at a roaring Anna Meares Velodrome.
Riding a wave of frenetic home support, Leigh Howard, Sam Welsford, Kelland O’Brien and Alex Porter set a new benchmark in the men’s 4km team pursuit as they routed rivals England in the gold medal decider.
The classy quartet blazed around the Brisbane circuit in three minutes 49.804 seconds, smashing the mark of 3:50.265 seconds set by Great Britain at the Rio Olympics.
“We’re in our home country. That is what dreams are made of. This is what we strive for every day,” said an ecstatic Welsford.
“When I looked at the board, I had to have a second glance — 3.49 — then it was pure happiness. I just screamed and let out all the emotion.
“I never knew how fast we were going. But we knew we were on a good one. The first under 3.50. Unreal.”
The Australians crossed nearly six seconds ahead of the Englishmen, striking an emphatic early blow in the track cycling battle that local media have dubbed the “the Ashes on wheels”, a reference to the nations’ fierce cricket rivalry.
The triumph came soon after their female compatriots set a Commonwealth record (4:15.214) in the same event, humbling silver medallists New Zealand for the gold.
Alexandra Manly, Annette Edmondson, Ashlee Ankudinoff and Amy Cure were raging favourites for the title and they delivered in style, running the New Zealanders down before the finish.
For Edmondson, Ankudinoff and Cure, the gold was some consolation after a tough Rio Olympics, where they finished outside the medals after suffering a horror crash during training.
“After the setbacks in Rio ... that is sport, and it has its ups and downs,” said Edmondson, a twice world champion.
“Our thoughts were on this race, and to get on with it and get the job done.”
Kaarle McCulloch and Stephanie Morton capped a joyous night for home fans by claiming gold in the women’s team sprint, setting another Games record in defeating New Zealand’s Natasha Hansen and Emma Cumming.
Australia were primed to sweep all four golds in the able-bodied events but failed to make the final in the men’s team sprint after a technical error during their qualifying race.
That left New Zealand’s trio of Sam Webster, Edward Dawkins and Ethan Mitchell to win the title, denying cycling powerhouse England a first track gold at the Games.
Editing by Toby Davis