Viviani’s Omnium Gold Jumpstarts Italy’s Track Program
Elia Viviani captured gold in the men's omnium this week. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com
MILAN (VN) — Elia Viviani’s Olympic gold medal in the omnium on Monday in Rio de Janeiro boosted Italy’s attempt to return to track success.
The Bel Paese once ruled the two-wheeled sport – both on the road and in the velodrome – before the rise of several other countries and the crippling economic crisis. Before Great Britain came to dominate the team pursuit, Italy would regularly earn medals through the 1998 world championships.
“Viviani was able to recommence our great tradition,” Pier Bergonzi, deputy director at La Gazzetta dello Sport, wrote Wednesday. “At one time, not so long ago, we were a force and the track was a small medal mine.
“Elia’s gold medal, spectacular and moving given how he matured, is a victory of diligence, but also a huge assist for Italian track cycling. A hand out-stretched, a Madison hand-sling that our movement needs to take advantage of.”
Of the 30-odd velodromes in Italy, only one is covered and suitable for UCI-level events. That helps to explain why Italy has suffered so much in track cycling in recent memory. The 2000 Sydney Games were the last time Italy won a medal — bronze in the Madison. Four years earlier at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Italy took home two gold medals.
Great Britain discovered the rich “mine” and invested a high percentage of its national lottery money into cycling.
“We looked at it ruthlessly,” Chris Boardman, the pursuit gold medalist in 1992 and a British Cycling executive, told the Wall Street Journal. “On the track, there’s more low-hanging fruit.”
Cycling is the most funded sport in the UK behind rowing, receiving $39,740,000 in the four-year period from 2013 to 2017. Boardman explained the majority of the money is given to sports in which athletes can win medals.
“It was very clear that lottery funding is about gold medals, not even [just] medals. Gold medals in the Olympic Games — not world records, not growing the sport.”
If it were a game of Monopoly, then Great Britain is on Park Place and Italy still needs to round New York Avenue and Free Parking. As Bergonzi wrote, Viviani’s gold medal will help the country progress.
Filippo Ganna, the 20-year-old who won the individual pursuit world title in March, wrote this to Viviani on Twitter: “It was you, don’t forget, who helped us improve in this discipline. Thanks.”
Viviani sprinted to a stage win in the Giro d’Italia last year for Team Sky, but he has yet to consistently take on the bigs like Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick-Step). He did upset Cavendish, however, in the Omnium. The Brit took home a silver to add to the country’s haul of 11 track medals in Rio. The Netherlands was next best with only two. The U.S. took two silver medals.
“I sacrifice the road because this was my big chance to win gold in the Olympics,” Viviani told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“When I returned home from the Giro, I was upset. On the other hand, Sky backed me. After pulling out, David Brailsford [team boss and former British track head] said, ‘You’re building towards a big goal, don’t give up now.'”