Track cycling – the best Danish medal chances at the 2020 Olympics
Cycling – especially track cycling – is both historically and currently one of Denmark’s best sports. Denmark is among the ten best cycling nations in the world despite modest 5,300 license riders under the age of 18 and only three tracks in Ballerup (Copenhagen), Odense and Aarhus.
The majority of the 26 Olympic medals, which Denmark has won in cycling, have been achieved on the track and Olympic gold medalists such as Willy Falck Hansen (kilometre time trial in 1928), Niels Fredborg (kilometre time trial in 1972), Dan Frost (points race in 1988) and most recently Lasse Norman Hansen (omnium in 2012) has largely contributed to the Danish olympic history. Danish track riders have won medals at the last three Olympic Games – Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 – and in my opinion, this is also the sport that currently has the best Danish medal chances at the 2020 Olympics, both for women and men. There are 22 different Olympic disciplines in cycling (road, track, BMX and MTB) at the 2020 Olympics, but 12 of the disciplines – sprint, team sprint, keirin, team pursuit, omnium and race – are held on “Izu Velodrome” in Tokyo. For the first time in the history of the Olympics, the number of disciplines for women and men in cycling is quite similar, both on road, BMX, MTB and track.
Team pursuit, where 4 riders drive a total distance of 4 kilometers, has been on the Olympic program since 1908 and Denmark has very proud traditions in the endurance discipline. The international breakthrough for Denmark in this discipline came at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where the Danish team – Gunnar Asmussen, Reno B. Olsen, Per Lyngemark and Mogens Frey – became Olympic champions (4.22.44) after West Germany was disqualified in the final. In 1992, Denmark also won the Olympic bronze medal in team pursuit.
It was logical that team pursuit became the overall focus of an unique collaboration between Denmark’s Cycle Union (DCU) and Team Denmark, which started in 2005. The aim was Olympic medals in 2012, but this aim would soon turn out to be “overtaken by the realities”. The key topics for the collaboration was some very talented youth riders – Alex Rasmussen, Casper Jørgensen, Michael Mørkøv, Jens-Erik Madsen and Michael Færk Christensen – hiring of an international top coach Heiko Salzwedel, financial resources and a targeted training effort of the squad over a number of years. The team pursuits international breakthrough came already at the 2007 World Championships, where it became a surprising bronze medals – a performance that was awarded with “Talent of the Year” in Danish elite sport. The following year, the team pursuit delivered one of the best Danish olympic performances in Beijing with the silver medals (3.56.81) after Great Britain (3.53.31), but ahead of strong cycling nations like Australia and New Zealand.
Exactly 10 years ago I had – along with Chairman Tom Lund, CEO Jesper Worre and High Performance Mangager Lars Bonde from DCU and the UCI president for track cycling – charismatic Peder Pedersen from Odense, who unfortunately died in 2015 – the experience to follow the Danish track riders at the World Championships in Pruszków. Denmark was among the favorites for the World Championship title in team pursuit. The squad – Jens-Erik Madsen, Alex Rasmussen, Michael Mørkøv, Michael Færk Christensen and Casper Jørgensen – fully lived up to favorite role and with a close victory (3.58.25) over Australia (3.58.87) in the WC-final, the Danish squad had reached their absolute highlight – the World Championship. At that time, High Performance Manager Lars Bonde had taken over the task as coach of the national team from Heiko Salzwedel, who is one of the most skilfully coaches I have co-operated with. The World Championship 2009 was historic for Danish track cycling, as Alex Rasmussen and Michael Mørkøv a few days later won the World Championship in Madison and Daniel Kreutzfeldt very surprising won the WC silver medal in points race.
DCU and Team Denmark’s collaboration on the team pursuit have so far led to a total of eight World Championship medals (Gold: 2009 – Silver: 2008, 2014 and 2018 – Bronze: 2007, 2013, 2016 and 2019) and two Olympic medals (2008 and 2016) in team pursuit as well as a number of EC-, WC- and Olympic medals in other disciplines of track cycling. Undoubtedly, Team Denmark’s economic investment in track cycling over the past 15 years is one of the most successful in the institution’s history.
In the last five days Pruszków has also hosted the World Championship 2019, where the team pursuit – Lasse Norman Hansen, Casper Folsach, Julius Johansen, Niklas Larsen and Rasmus Lund Pedersen – again succeeded in winning a World Championship medal. The preformances in the preliminary time trial and especially in the semi-finals against Great Britain were a little disappointing, but in the bronze final against Canada, the Danish team showed high international class and set a new Danish record (3.51.80). However, the World Championship also showed that especially Australia, which set a new world record (3.48.01) in the WC final, and Great Britain (3.50.38) are currently favorites for the Olympic final. But Denmark is definitely among the medal candidates for the bronze medals together with Canada and New Zealand.
In addition, Denmark also has very good medal chances in the Madison, where Lasse Norman Hansen and Casper Folsach won the World Championship silver medals only beaten by the German world champions Theo Reinhardt and Roger Kluge. Amalie Dideriksen and Julie Leth also won the WC bronze medal only defeated by the Netherlands and Australia. Both Danish couples showed that the season’s World Cup results have far from been a coincidence. There is no doubt that the Madison status of new Olympic discipline in 2020 is a great advantage for Denmark.
I believe that the Danish chances for Olympic medals are greater in the team pursuit and Madison than in omnium, where 22-year-old Amalie Dideriksen became No. 6 in the women’s omnium and 21-year-old Niklas Larsen became No. 8 in the men’s omnium in Pruszków. Both Danish riders are extremely talented, but in both categories cycling nations like Australia, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Italy, United States, France, New Zealand, Belgium and Spain have riders with many competencies and many years of experiences. But young Danish riders have previously surprised as, for example 20-year-old Lasse Norman Hansen, who stationed Olympic gold in omnium at the 2012 Olympic Games.
However, there is no doubt that Danish track cucling has significantly more Olympic medal candidates than ever before. In my opinion, it is not unrealistic that Denmark wins two or three Olympic medals in Tokyo, even though the competition is going to be very tough.