Great Britain reaffirms cycling supremacy in team pursuit

Great Britain's Laura Trott waves to the crowd after her squad reclaimed the team pursuit crown over the United States in world-record time. Tim Clayton/Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO -- A whole lot of speed, sweat and world records later, the pecking order of the Olympic women's team pursuit podium remained the same as four years ago.

Defending champion Great Britain reconfirmed its supremacy on Saturday over the U.S. team led by veteran Sarah Hammer in the gold medal final in a world record time of 4 minutes 10.236 seconds. The gap was a decisive 2.214 seconds -- the third new standard of the day and fourth of the competition overall.

"I've never been part of a team that feels so seamless," said animated English rider Laura Trott of the effort by Katie Archibald, Elinor Barker, Joanna Rowsell-Shand and herself. Trott's third gold medal, along with team pursuit and omnium championships from London 2012, made her the most successful female British Olympian in history.

Trott said she knew a world record was "in the cards" after the team notched a 4:13 in its holding camp, but she described the championship ride as shockingly easy.

"Just felt like we rode 'round," she said.

Hammer and a trio of young and immensely talented American riders -- Jennifer Valente, 21, of San Diego; Kelly Catlin, 20, of Arden Hills, Minnesota; and Chloe Dygert, 19, of Brownsburg, Indiana -- pulled off an upset at the world championships in London in March, but they knew Great Britain would be formidable in Rio.

"Look, we were going for gold, but obviously I'm still so proud of the team and what we've accomplished," said Hammer, who won her first individual world championship 10 years ago.

"We're kind of the little team that could, going up against the big machine," said Hammer, who will turn 33 in a few days. "That's how the U.S. rolls. We're the underdogs; that's what motivates us. We came close, we tried to push them, but they were the better team."

Hammer said she hasn't decided how much longer she'll compete but that she definitely won't extend her career another four years.

She has more racing to do in Rio in another event in which she's had considerable success: the omnium -- track cycling's arduous two-day multidiscipline equivalent of the pentathlon -- on Monday and Tuesday. Hammer won the omnium silver medal at London 2012.

Whenever Hammer decides to bow out, she'll leave a more-than-solid foundation for the future.

In March, still fresh off the world title, Hammer commended the U.S. coaching staff for scouting more specialized, power-oriented athletes, rather than simply converting time trial specialists.

"It may look fluid and beautiful to a spectator watching, but it is raw and tough when we're out there," Hammer told ESPN.com then. "We are going superfast, millimeters apart from each other; one mistake and it's over. I know there's tons of athletes out there. When I'm done, hopefully they'll continue this flow."

Indeed, head U.S. Olympic track coach Andy Sparks said he has never seen a young rider take to the track as naturally as Dygert, whose main challenge might be to decide how to channel her talent without overextending herself. "You're never going to have to worry about complacency with her," Sparks said a few months ago.

Dygert swept the world junior time trial and road race titles in Richmond, Virginia, last year, attacking out of a breakaway on the final circuit in the latter to solo home. She wants to try to continue to balance road and track. "'Can't' is not in my vocabulary," Dygert said matter-of-factly.

Canada won the bronze medal on Saturday with a time of 4:14.627 to retain the bronze medal it won four years ago.

Team GB set a new world record in Thursday's qualifying round, then topped a new mark by the U.S. team on Saturday morning.

Trott noted that there was some skepticism when the women's format was changed to match the men's for these Summer Games, expanding the teams to four riders apiece and extending the distance to 4,000 meters.

"People worried we couldn't get four [world-class] riders, because there aren't as many women in cycling," she said. "But to come here and see a field like this is pretty incredible."