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Olympic news for September 14
First final: women's 500 metres
The first gold medal in cycling at the Olympics will be decided on Saturday evening, shortly after 8pm Sydney time. The event is the women's 500m time trial, a new one for the Olympics, and it will immediately follow on from the men's 4000m individual pursuit qualifications.
The favourites for the event are Frenchwoman Felicia Ballanger, Australia's Michelle Ferris and Lyndelle Higginson, China's Jiang Cuihua. Others include France's Magali Faure, Germany's Kathrin Freitag, China's Yan Wang, Canada's Tanya Dubnicoff, and USA's Chris Witty.
Ballanger is the top favourite though, holding the world record at 34.010 seconds, and unbeaten since 1995 in major competitions. She won the gold medal in the sprint at Atlanta, and could well do the double here.
France may be in line for another gold medal shortly after the women's 500, with Arnaud Tournant being the clear favourite in the men's 1000 metre time trial. Shane Kelly may have something to say about that, as will Germans Soren Lausberg and Stefan Nimke, France's Herve Robert Thuet, and Great Britain's Jason Queally.
Kelly's pedals OK
Australia's hope in the kilo time trial, Shane Kelly has received a morale boost in the final days leading up to his event on Saturday. He has had his 'new' pedal system approved by the UCI, enabling him to start with complete confidence. A repeat of Atlanta where he pulled his foot out would be a total disaster, however Kelly is sure that he'll be in tight this time.
The pedal-strap device is designed so that Kelly will have to be wheeled to the start gate by his helpers. He will have 50 seconds to get into the start gate before the gun goes off, and the Australian mechanics who developed the system believe that there will be no problems with this.
Kelly attempted to use the system at last year's World Championships in Berlin, but was denied. The problem was not the pedal system, but the wheeling of the rider to the start by team officials. UCI permission was not given in time for the event, but this has been clarified since.
Germans want 8 medals
After 4 gold and 2 silver medals in the cycling events in Barcelona, 1992, the German Olympic squad did not perform nearly as well in Atlanta. One gold to Jens Fiedler (men's sprint) and a bronze to Judith Arndt (women's pursuit) was all they came back with. This time there are more medals up for grabs - 54 in total over the three disciplines - and BDR national president Manfred Boehmer wants at least eight of them.
His goal is made slightly easier in that there are several new events in Sydney, namely the Keirin, Olympic Sprint, Madison and women's 500m Time Trial, all track events. The entire German cycling team consists of 26 riders, and they have a good chance of medalling in several events.
Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel are favourites for the men's road races, while Hanka Kupfernagel, Petra Rossner and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg stand good chances for the women's events. On the track, they are particularly strong in the pursuit events as well as the sprints and have a good record of three gold, four silver and four bronze from last year's World Track Championships.
Zabel's last preparation
German road hope, Erik Zabel is racing up to September 17 in the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfarht as part of the Telekom team. The 30 year old did not place in today's first stage, won by Latvian Romans Vainsteins in a breakaway sprint.
Five first division teams and all the German second division teams are riding in the 2.4 class event. Telekom are pinning their overall hopes on Udo Bölts, who will start his Hawaii Ironman preparation in earnest after this five day race.
Italian track star, Silvio Martinello has commented on a scandal involving a fellow member of the Italian Olympic team, Marco Pantani. This came after a revelation by CONI (the Italian Olympic Committee) that a top Italian cyclist has not passed a health check, and many fingers have been pointed at Pantani. CONI have not confirmed who it is, but that hasn't stopped the press and other riders from commenting.
Atlanta gold medal winner, Martinello said that "If the values are those of Pantani, and he was prevented from being on the team, then I believe that this would be a severe blow for the ambiance and for the image of the sport. With the EPO tests that will be made on cycling here, the situation is worrying, but he alone can assess the risks."
Amore e Vita's patron, Ivano Fanini added his voice as well, "CONI and the FCI would have to take a strong stand to justify the participation of Marco Pantani in the Olympic Games, considering that they could lose a key rider. Therefore they would only give such a strong sign if the situation was serious," he said.
The Italian team was rocked several weeks ago when Andrea Collinelli and Mauro Trentini were ejected from the track team after testing positive at the Italian track championships in July. Pantani and the Italian Federation have yet to comment on this latest affair.
Who's riding the points?
Australia will have to make a decision quite soon as to who of their team will be riding the points race on September 20. Only one rider per country is allowed, and it could be any one of four of the Aussies: Scott McGrory, Brett Aitken, Stuart O'Grady or Michael Rogers are the candidates, with McGrory probably favoured at the moment. O'Grady is on his way home from Europe and will have little time to adapt, however there is a bike with his name on it completely kitted out with disc wheels...
More will be known later today.