Campbell Stewart wins silver, making this officially New Zealand’s most successful Olympic Games ever. Video / Sky Sport
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24 hours ago, Campbell Stewart’s Olympics were meant to be over.
Now, he’s an Olympic medallist.
The 23-year-old Kiwi cyclist claimed a stunning silver on the track on Thursday night, pulling off the most improbable of comebacks on the final lap of the final event to push New Zealand’s medal tally to 19 – past the Rio haul to set a Kiwi Olympic record.
Seven of those 19 medals are gold and New Zealand now sits 11th on the Olympics table, with more prospects today.
While Stewart is a former world champion in the discipline, the New Zealand selectors had opted for Aaron Gate to ride the omnium, until Gate’s crash in last night’s team pursuit ruled him out.
Stewart, a member of the team pursuit squad but overlooked for other events, was meant to be wrapping up his campaign after that race, but instead Gate’s broken collarbone pushed the two-time Commonwealth Games medallist into the spotlight at short notice.
He didn’t disappoint.
Stewart’s silver came 40 minutes after Ellesse Andrews took New Zealand’s first Tokyo track medal in the keirin, but while Andrews was always in the medal mix, Stewart seemed dead and buried after three of the four omnium events.
A seventh place in the opening scratch race was followed by 12th in the tempo race to place him 10th overall, and while a strong fifth in the elimination race moved him into seventh, he still sat 28 points outside the medal placings, and needed a remarkable final points race to vault into the medals.
Calculations before the final suggested that even lapping the field, and taking the 20 bonus points on offer for doing so, wouldn’t be enough for Stewart in the 100-lap race featuring point bonuses of five, three, two and one after every 10 laps. The added dollop of pessimistic context came in the form of the riders in front of him, who included the defending Olympic champion and the three podium finishers at the 2020 world championships.
Those calculations proved accurate when Stewart did indeed lap the field early in the race, but still found himself outside of medal contention, with Great Britain’s Matthew Walls storming clear and Italy’s Elia Vivani and France’s Benjamin Thomas sitting comfortably in the other medal positions.
It continued that way until the final 10 laps, with Stewart seemingly set for a fifth-place finish, when the Kiwi produced a staggering show of strength to fire off the front again in a last-ditch attempt to claim another lap on the field, and the medal-sealing 20 points that came with it.
Thomas, now sitting rather uncomfortably in the suddenly under-fire bronze medal position, started to chase, and Stewart was left hanging, half a lap ahead, as the remaining laps ticked closer to zero.
However, he had two strong riders with him in Denmark’s Niklas Larsen and Spain’s Alberto Torres, and they were happy to help New Zealand’s cause, taking pulls at the front as Thomas looked around for support.
It came from Viviani who surged clear in an attempt to defend his silver medal, but with one measly lap remaining, Stewart made the catch, collecting another 20 points to finish the points race with a stunning 51, and claim a phenomenal silver medal.
The defending world champion Thomas, relegated to fourth place, looked around in shock – and he had every right to be stunned, as Stewart’s remarkable comeback was a truly sensational ride.
But it was even more sensational considering who pulled it off – someone who wasn’t supposed to be racing.