Campbell Stewart admitted that the drive to do something special for the team – and especially injured compatriot Aaron Gates – was the crucial ingredient in his stunning Omnium performance on Thursday night, where he claimed a sensational silver medal.
Stewart produced one of the great track cycling comebacks in the Izu Velodrome, with a late surge on the penultimate lap to jump from fifth.
Afterwards he paid tribute to his team, especially Gates, who broke his collarbone in a high-speed crash during the Men’s Team Pursuit bronze medal race against Australia on Wednesday night.
That ended their chances of a podium finish, and also ruled Gates out of the Omnium.
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Stewart, as the reserve, stepped in, with the plight of his teammates giving extra motivation.
“Yesterday… the boys… it was tragic,” Stewart told Sky TV, as Gates wandered across to join him midway through the interview, his arm in a sling.
“This just shows the team that we have. Gatey here went down yesterday. He was gonna be riding today and that’s why I just had to do it for him and the team.”
According to Stewart, the vocal support from his teammates during the 100-lap climax to the Omnium was critical.
“I was riding by myself but, man, I could hear them, that’s why I was able to pull it off,” Stewart told Sky.
“I had to do that for them. This man [Gate] threw it all down for us yesterday. He’s got a broken collarbone but I tell you what, I couldn’t have done it without him. He was out there with me tonight.”
In arguably the most gruelling – and tactical – track cycling event, the 23-year-old from Palmerston North barely put a foot wrong, collecting points steadily through the first three races before his amazing climax in the final race.
The 2019 Omnium world champion was understandably thrilled with his Olympic silver medal, especially as he did it the hard way, with his late, late show.
“There’s always the top step, another time and I’ll come back for that in the future,” said Stewart. “The first few rides, they weren’t terrible but there were a few moves that went without me and that just gave me the determination to make something of [the points race].”
Stewart’s medal took New Zealand’s Tokyo tally to 19 – their best haul in history, with three more days of competition left.
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