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Meares celebrates her 'biggest win'

A memorable final day of track cycling produces a gold medal for Sir Chris Hoy and Anna Meares, who says this is "the biggest win of my career".

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TO FULLY understand the brilliance of Anna Meares' greatest victory, her greatest loss must be understood first.

The triumph materialised in a gripping, two-bout fight against a nine-time sprint world champion, Victoria Pendleton, the 28-year-old Queenslander's fiercest and longest-held rival.

It saw Meares, an underdog in the setting despite her roll-call of credentials, subject the defending Olympic sprint queen to an unforeseen crushing that was not only physical but deeply psychological.

Goldent girl ...Australia's Anna Meares kisses her gold medal on the podium after winning the London 2012 Olympic Games women's sprint final cycling.

Golden girl ...Australia's Anna Meares kisses her gold medal on the podium after winning the women's sprint final. Photo: AFP

Just four days earlier, however, Meares had left the velodrome in tears, having produced the worst performance of her career on the biggest stage. She was the world title-holder entering the keirin event, but finished second last.

Pendleton stole her thunder and, in that eight-lap race before a roaring crowd, the British champion rode so fast that many declared her unbeatable in the individual sprint contest that was to follow.

Meares cried herself to sleep in the Olympic village that night, and felt so ashamed by what she had produced that she couldn't look her coach, Gary West, in the eye the next day.

Words of congratulations ...  silver medallist Victoria Pendleton, left, speaks to Anna Meares.

Words of congratulations ... silver medallist Victoria Pendleton, left, speaks to Anna Meares. Photo: Getty IMages

After a triumph that made up for every loss she has ever conceded to Pendleton, Meares, sitting in a make-shift television studio at around 1am yesterday, recalled two factors that lifted her out of a hole and onto the top of a podium. First came an order from her husband, Mark Chadwick, to end her year-long ban on chocolate: ''His rationale was spinach is good for Popeye as chocolate is good for me,'' she said with a hearty laugh. But while that sugar-hit was good, it quickly subsided. So Meares, who for the two weeks leading up to the Olympics cut herself off from all media and most communication, decided to break another ban.

''I sent a message out to my sponsors, my close friends and my family, asking for some support, which I've never done before and I felt very strange doing it.

''It was an apology,'' she said, tears triggered with the recollection. ''An apology to the closest people to me. I said I feel like I want to crawl into a corner and hide but if they could offer some support I'd appreciate it.''

Anna Meares celebrates her win in the final. Photo by Reuters Click for more photos

Anna Meares sprints to gold

Anna Meares celebrates her win in the final. Photo by Reuters

  • Anna Meares celebrates her win in the final. Photo by Reuters
  • Silver medallist Victoria Pendleton of Great Britain, gold medallist Anna Meares, and bronze medallist Shuang Guo of China. Photo by Getty Images
  • An emotional Anna Meares after her win. Photo by Reuters
  • Anna Meares shakes hands with Victoria Pendleton of Great Britain. Photo by Getty Images
  • A relieved Anna Meares after her track cycling win. Photo by Reuters
  • Anna Meares celebrates with a team official. Photo by Reuters
  • Australia's Anna Meares after winning gold against Victoria Pendleton. Photo by Reuters
  • Britain's Victoria Pendleton and Australia's Anna Meares cross the finish line. Photo by Reuters
  • Anna Meares of Australia celebrates winning the gold medal ahead of Victoria Pendleton of Great Britain. Photo by Getty Images
  • Anna Meares chases down Victoria Pendleton of Great Britain. Photo by Getty Images
  • Anna Meares of Australia and Victoria Pendleton of Great Britain cross the line in race one of the final . Photo by Omega and Getty Images
  • Anna Meares in her semi-final. Photo by Getty Images

Raelene Boyle was among those who sent back a message that touched and inspired her. Another dear friend sent Meares a poem.

''It helped me hugely,'' she said.

''It stopped me thinking on the path I was thinking.''

After it all came back together and ended in the most famous of sprint victories, Meares had time to steal a kiss from her husband but nothing more.

A media binge had to take priority and when the cameras stopped rolling in the early hours of yesterday morning the phones took over. Many calls had to be postponed, but not one from the Prime Minister. ''I can't believe you're talking to ME!'' Meares exclaimed.

As for where her rivalry with Pendleton was left, following the British champion's last ever race, Meares paid tribute to some acts of genuine grace. Pendleton had extended a congratulatory hand to Meares on the track after she had been beaten, but this was nothing new or particularly special.

What was more significant was an exchange in the subterranean corridors of the velodrome as the pair was forced to spend more than a few moments together after their medal ceremony was delayed inexplicably.

''She was very emotional when I walked down the tunnel,'' Meares said.

''She gave me a hug and I thought it was just going to be a hug and a congratulations, and that we'd then go our separate ways as it has been in the past. But she kind of hung on and she said 'you're a champion, you deserve this'.

''Then she leant me a hairbrush because I didn't have a hairbrush or a make-up kit. We were sharing the mirror to try to fix our sweaty hair. I don't know why our ceremony was delayed but we had a lot of time and we just started to talk, and it was good.''

Meares' final word on Pendleton was that cycling would miss her. While the inference was that she would not, there was not a hint of unkindness in the call. It sounded much more like an assessment from a woman who, despite her immediate plans to take a year out off racing, is already envisaging the time when she will return as the stand-alone queen of the track.