The velodrome, track cycling is no white elephant for these Games

If you’re lucky and your schedule is clear, you can let impulse guide you at the Olympics.

Tuesday, I got lucky. I had a three-hour break between interviews and just enough time to get to the velodrome for the last day of track cycling.

I came to London with zero interest in the sport. I thought velodromes were developed so that the Olympics could leave behind at least one unused relic from every Games. After all, who rides a bike indoors? They don’t have treadmill races, do they?
But after five days of listening to the BBC talk about how many medals the Brits were winning in track cycling, I decided to give the sport a chance. Those cyclists are seriously fit, and while it may not be a passion among a lot of Americans, who gravitate toward road cycling or mountain biking, it is a huge passion point here.

It’s odd to think about. Americans prefer road cycling and watching cars go around in circles on a NASCAR track. Brits enjoy track cycling and prefer seeing F1 cars navigate tight turns on the streets of Monaco.

Great Britain's Laura Trott brought the crowd to its feet with a gold medal on Tuesday.
GETTY IMAGES
Track cycling has practically become the country’s national Olympic sport here, and I wanted to see what it was all about, so I hurried from a few meetings in central London out to the Olympic Park for the last day of track cycling.

The exterior of the velodrome is made of wood that bends outward from the building’s concrete foundation and swoops upward into the sky. Walking under its overhang, I felt like I was beneath a giant bamboo cereal bowl.

The venue holds 6,000 people, and its interior looks like a salad platter. It’s as hot and stuffy inside as Florida in late May. London organizers say it’s made of a “100 percent naturally ventilated system that eliminates the need for air conditioning.” My damp shirt would disagree.

A British sports executive told me Tuesday that the nation generally feels uncomfortable celebrating success. Someone forgot to tell people at the velodrome that.

The moment a British cyclist took to the track and the beeper sounded, a roar rumbled up from every seat in the venue. As British cyclist Laura Trott in the women’s omnium, a 500-meter time trial, circled the track in her race, they got louder and louder and louder until she crossed the finish line. Then it went silent.

When the scoreboard showed she had finished in record time, they exploded to their feet. They applauded. They whistled. They chanted. They shouted. “Laura! Laura! Laura! Laura!”

They stood for more than five minutes after Trott won, clapping as she rode her bike around the track with a Union Jack fluttering off her back.

Between races, the entertainment of choice was a kiss cam. The crowd chanted “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” It’s like a giant game of spin the bottle with 6,000 people.

One time they were showing two guys on the camera, who were reluctant, so a third guy leaned in and pecked one of them on the cheek. The crowd roared.

In just two hours, I saw Team Great Britain win two gold medals, and I developed an appreciation for a velodrome that I’d never had before. In some places, they don’t become white elephants. London’s surely one of those places.

Sometimes it’s good to follow your impulse.

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