Matt Walls won gold in the Olympic men’s omnium to deliver Great Britain’s first title in the velodrome of the Tokyo Games.
On the day that Jason Kenny bid farewell to the individual sprint crown he has held since since London 2012, it was his younger room-mate who was the one to end Britain’s wait for gold on the fourth day of racing.
The 23-year-old – whose season was disrupted by a positive test for Covid-19 in March – rode smartly throughout the four-discipline omnium to win with a comfortable final margin of 24 points from Campbell Stewart of New Zealand, with defending champion Elia Viviani taking bronze for Italy.
Walls won the opening scratch race and never trailed again, albeit sharing the lead after the tempo race before moving clear once again in the elimination leg.
The Oldham-born rider went into the deciding points race with a narrow advantage of just six points but gained a lap on the field early on to take control, and then could mark his rivals the rest of the way.
Walls won omnium bronze at the world championships in Berlin last year, then took gold against a depleted field at the European championships that were held in November, but was still not regarded as a favourite coming into Tokyo.
“There was a bit of an unknown because the last track race I did was the Euros last year,” Walls said.
“But I’ve been going well on the road, getting in some quality racing this year so I knew I was good coming in. I just didn’t know how it would translate on the track, how the tactics would be, because it had been so long.
“But I came into the scratch race feeling good, came away with that win and then I knew I’d got a chance as long as I played it smart. I knew I’d got the legs so it could work out and it did.”
Walls tested positive for Covid-19 in late March while racing in Belgium with Bora-Hansgrohe, the WorldTour road team he joined this season.
He was forced to spend two weeks holed up in a Belgian hotel before he could return home, with the experience putting a significant dent in his season as he did not race on the road again until the Tour de Suisse in Switzerland.
Britain had been made to settle for silver in the women’s team pursuit and men’s team sprint earlier in the week, while another event they had previously dominated – the men’s team pursuit – ended in a disappointing seventh place.
But Walls – held out of that pursuit in order to focus entirely on the omnium – has changed the narrative for a team seeing their reign of dominance come to an end.