Britain opens track cycling program with another golden ride

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Sam Webster of New Zealand, left, and teammate Edward Dawkins compete in the men's team sprint qualifying at the Rio Olympic Velodrome during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.

Sam Webster of New Zealand, left, and teammate Edward Dawkins compete in the men's team sprint qualifying at the Rio Olympic Velodrome during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (Photo: (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin))

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Britain won the first gold medal of the Olympic track cycling program on Thursday, rallying past New Zealand in the final of the men's team sprint by the slimmest of margins.

The squad of Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner trailed when their second and third riders dropped away, but Skinner was able to make up the difference. They finished in 42.440 seconds, lowering the Olympic record that the Kiwis set in the previous round.

Ethan Mitchell, Sam Webster and Ed Dawkins stopped the clock in 42.542 seconds.

The French team of Gregory Bauge, Francois Pervis and Michael D'Almeida rallied on the final lap to swipe bronze from the Australian team of Nathan Hart, Matt Glaetzer and Patrick Constable.

The gold medal was the third straight in the men's team sprint for Britain, and Kenny has been part of all of them. He teamed with Chris Hoy and Jamie Staff to win the event in 2008 in Beijing, and teamed with Hoy and Hindes to win the event four years ago in London.

In team pursuit qualifying, defending gold medalist Britain broke its own world record in the women's event in 4:13.260, slicing over the new wooden track surface in perfect unison.

They lowered the mark of 4:13.683 set by Australia in 2015.

The British team of Katie Archibald, Laura Trott, Elinor Barker and Joanna Rowsell-Shand nearly had its mark wiped out moments later. The United States team on its high-tech, left-side drive bikes were ahead of the pace until the final few laps of the 4,000-meter event.

"I gave everything I had," said Chloe Dygert, who along with Sarah Hammer, Jennifer Valente and Kelly Catlin finished in 4:14.286. "We'll see what we have in the tank on Saturday."

The U.S. will face Australia, which qualified third after its terrifying crash during training on Monday, in the semifinals. The British team will face Canada in the other semifinal.

"It tickled a bit out there, I'm not going to lie," said Australia's Melissa Hoskins, who spent a few hours in the hospital after their crash but was part of the qualifying lineup.

The British men nearly matched their record-setting women, falling just short of the mark they set at the London Games. Their time of 3:51.943 was still the fastest in qualifying, a strong opening salvo as Bradley Wiggins tries to become Britain's most decorated Olympian.

He is tied with retired track cyclist Chris Hoy with seven medals — four of them gold.

Britain will face New Zealand in the semifinals, while Denmark will face Australia in the other semifinal. The winners Friday advance to race for gold later in the day.

The British are trying to replicate their gold rush from four years ago in London, when they won seven of the 10 track cycling events. And they got off to a solid start Thursday.

Hindes, Kenny and Skinner — who replaced the retired Hoy in the lineup — beat their own Olympic record with a qualifying time of 42.562 seconds. But they were trumped by the trio from New Zealand in the semifinals, watching their record go by the wayside in 42.535.

That set up a showdown in the finals.

New Zealand got off to the faster start, leading when the first rider dropped away after the opening lap. The upstarts still held the smallest of margins — hundredths of seconds — when the second rider dropped away, leaving Skinner and Dawkins to sprint for gold.

Britain's rider won the race to the finish.

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