The opening day of the 2020 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, Canada, saw a number of superb performances including three new world records. None was more emotional than Canada’s Kate O’Brien taking the gold medal and rainbow jersey of UCI World Champion in the WC4 500m time trial.
It’s a brilliant moment for any rider to earn the stripes on their home track, but for O’Brien it’s an amazing chapter in her story as she set a new world record at her first UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in her comeback competition after suffering a serious head injury.
In Thursday afternoon’s WC4 500m time trial, O’Brien was first of 13 athletes to ride. She went out fast – and stayed fast – setting a new fastest time of 35.223 seconds, at an average speed of 51.103km/h over the two laps.
Successive riders gave it their all, but none could come close to the new mark – putting the pressure on previous world record holder and 2019 UCI World Champion Kadeena Cox (Great Britain), who was last to ride. Cox had seen O’Brien take her record, and then watched on as none of the other women got within 3 seconds of the Canadian’s time.
At the start of the day Cox’s record was 37.456sec. The former track and field athlete (gold medalist in the T38 400m sprint at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and three-time sprint World Champion) beat her own world record time by 0.8sec, in 36.653, which put her clear in silver medal position, but still found herself 1.4sec short.
O’Brien’s story is unique. After playing basketball in her youth she competed in bobsleigh before an injury forced her to miss out on Olympic selection, after which she prioritised her other love, cycling. O’Brien became a successful track cyclist, representing Canada in able-bodied cycling, including gold in the team sprint at the 2015 Pan-American Games in Toronto and silver in the same event in the 2017 Los Angeles Track World Cup. But in 2017, O’Brien suffered a major accident in training, colliding with a pacing motorcycle, resulting in broken bones and a traumatic brain injury.
After a difficult and lengthy recovery, Kate O’Brien’s comeback was complete on the Milton track, and the Canadian Paralympic Team was quick to celebrate:
It was a great night for anyone who enjoys the Dutch national anthem, which is already becoming a regular theme at this year’s UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships.
The toe-tapping tempo was set as early as the first event, the tandem team sprint, with the Netherlands and Poland qualifying 1-2 through to the gold final. 2016 1km B time trial UCI World Champion Larissa Klaassen and her sighted pilot Imke Brommer set off behind Vincent ter Schure (triple medallist at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, across road and track) and his pilot, Timo Fransen, who immediately took an advantage over the Polish tandem riders. The Dutch men crossed the line after three laps in 49.696 sec (54.330km/h), almost 2 seconds ahead of Angelika Biedrzycka and her pilot Edyta Jasinska.
This was immediately backed up with another Dutch win in the WC5 500m time trial as Caroline Groot went more than 1 second faster than anyone else, putting para-cycling legend Sarah Storey into bronze position with an unmatchable pace. “It’s a good feeling, I’m very happy with it,” said Groot. “There is no strategy in 500m, you just go!”
Greece Women’s side will play their second international, and first at home