Bronze medal for van Velthooven in keirin
The man they call Rhino charged onto the Olympic cycling podium today and said he felt the whole of New Zealand pushing him in a desperate final lunge to dead-heat for bronze.
Manawatu's Simon van Velthooven proudly stood beside the remarkable Chris Hoy who broke down in tears accepting his sixth Olympic gold medal in his final Games after a gripping, deafening keirin final at the velodrome.
The 23-year-old, 13 years younger than Great Britain's cycling knight, had an interminable wait of around five minutes before a dead-heat for third with Dutchman Teun Mulder was confirmed and the pair got a bronze each, as the New Zealand and Dutch flags were raised together. Hoy won the six-man final from Germany's Maxmilian Levy, van Velthooven's friend and training partner.
It is the first time in Olympic history that four medals were awarded in a single cycling event.
"The wait wasn't really that long because I backed myself. That final lunge was huge. The whole nation was pushing me in that lunge and I'm just glad I got that medal. It's a big sigh of relief," said van Velthooven, who claimed New Zealand's sixth Olympic cycling medal and first for a sprinter.
He matched the bronze of the men's pursuit team, including his former Palmerston North Boys' High School mate, Jesse Sergent.
"It's a nation medal. In New Zealand it's special, any Olympic sport is backed hugely. All that hard work, everyone that's looked after me, billeted me and fed me. It's just a huge moment for everyone in BikeNZ in track cycling and in our team. I'm lost for words," van Velthooven said.
Van Velthooven stamped his medal credentials in the morning's heats when he was drawn with Hoy and stalked him all the way in a strong opening statement. Then in the semifinals, the New Zealander was in strife, last of the six riders with a lap to go, before looping the field and getting within a whisker of Levy.
Then in the final, Hoy led out and Levy followed, van Velthooven tried to track Hoy up but had to go wide, and Mulder poked through on the inside. Van Velthooven initially punched the air but there was no confirmation. As Hoy raised his flag and accepted the adulation of a roaring full house, van Velthooven did several laps with nothing showing on the big screen. Even with splits down to one-thousandth of a second they couldn't be separated.
"If Levy wasn't between us in the photo it might have been a different story. That's how close Olympics are and a photo finish isn't enough. I'm glad they handed out two bronzes because I would have hated to get fourth."
When the result was confirmed the dead-heaters embraced. Van Velthooven was mobbed by his sprint team-mates Eddie Dawkins, Ethan Mitchell and Sam Webster, clad in their black and white New Zealand blazers. A beaming van Velthooven waved to the crowd from the podium and offered a cheeky devil horns signal.
"To see [Hoy] to the right of me with a gold medal was quite humbling. Racing as a knight and a crowd favourite and with the whole nation on your shoulders, in my eyes is a hard thing to do.
"To be on the podium with him and Max Levy and Teun Mulder, they're all living legends and last year I was looking up to them thinking 'they're the ones to beat'. To be on par with them is amazing."
The New Zealand track sprint programme is in its infancy but van Velthooven, who initially dreamed of being a road rider before he got too big, made giant strides. He won keirin bronze at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010, then was third across the line in the world championship final in April before being relegated to sixth for interference.
He planned a big celebration in London.
"I'll probably catch up with my parents and family and friends. They've been at Kiwi House drinking it dry so hopefully there's a Moa beer left for me."
For Hoy it was a sixth Olympic gold and ensured Britain matched their Beijing record of seven track titles.
"There have been some really difficult moments and to get through them all, after 16 years, it's just one of the greatest feelings I've ever had," said Hoy, who is expected to retire after the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
It was Hoy's seventh Games medal, which puts him ahead of Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins on 'gold difference' as Britain's most decorated Olympian.
Wiggins has four Olympic titles to Hoy's six after the Scot won the team sprint event with Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny last Thursday.
With his team sprint and keirin victories, Hoy has retained two of his three Beijing titles but could not defend the third after he was omitted in favour of eventual champion Jason Kenny to represent Britain in the individual sprint.
"I'm in shock. I'm trying to take it all in, but this is surreal. It is what I always wanted - to win gold in front of my home crowd. I can't express the feelings I'm having right now. It's just the most amazing feeling," Hoy added.
"This is the perfect end to my Olympic career. At Sydney (in 2000), I was just over the moon with a silver medal. If I'd have stopped then I would have been a happy boy, but to go on to Athens, Beijing and here, I can't put it into words."
Asked if he would compete in Rio in 2016, Hoy said it was highly unlikely.
"I'm 99.9 per cent sure that I won't be in Rio. Glasgow 2014 (for the Commonwealth Games), if I can keep going that would be the dream ending for me," he said.
The other New Zealander in action on the final night at the velodrome, Jo Kiesanowski, finished seventh in the women's omnium after being 11th overnight. Great Britain's Laura Trott won her second gold, beating the United States' Sarah Hammer and Australia's Annette Edmondson.
-Fairfax NZ and Reuters