Sarah Ulmer wins Gold in Athens 2004

Sarah Ulmer had clearly established herself as the one to beat in the Women’s 3000m Individual Pursuit prior to the Athens Olympic Games, having set a world record of 3min 30.604s earlier in the year at the World Championships in Melbourne.

This achievement proved a double-edged sword, because it placed the mantle of favouritism on her at Athens, even though her opponents included rising Australian Katie Mactier and Dutch legend Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel.

Mactier and Zijlaard-van Moorsel were outstanding at Athens. The trouble for them was that Ulmer had improved even more since setting the world record in May 2004.

On the first day Ulmer’s time, 3min 26.400s, sent a buzz of excitement around the velodrome. In the qualifying ride shortly after, she again led the field by quite a margin, being timed at 3min 27.444s.

Ulmer’s strength in the individual pursuit was that she held her speed so well, whereas others tended to blast out of the blocks and then wobble home.

In the final, against Mactier, Ulmer trailed by a second after 1000m. After that she was remorselessly efficient. When she was done, she had recorded 3min 24.537s and had won by a staggering 3.113s, this in a sport that is measured in thousandths of a second.

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