For the past decade tennis has been defined by the battles between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In track cycling the corresponding clash is the one between Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton.
Sure the world’s two fastest women don’t get as much coverage as their big money racquet swinging counterparts, but the rivalry is every bit as intense.
There’s an apparent friendship between Federer and Nadal. Not so Meares and Pendleton. Respect yes. Potential friends? Not likely.
The physical risks associated with track sprinting only serve to stoke the fire that rages between the two.
And just as many of the clashes between Federer and Nadal have been at Melbourne Park, so too have the ones between Meares and Pendleton.
As Australia prepares to host this year’s track world championships, it was on the boards at Hisense Arena in 2004 that the rivalry between the Australian and the Brit was born.
Meares comfortably had the better of Pendleton at those championships, coming away with gold in the time trial and silver in the sprint. Pendleton went home empty handed.
Then, when they returned to Melbourne, for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the sparks really began to fly.
In the time trial Pendleton set a Commonwealth record only to sit track side and watch Meares go 0.3 seconds faster to claim the gold.
They then went head-to-head in the sprint final. Pendleton won the first heat, Meares the second. It was down to the third and deciding heat for gold.
Meares draw the lead in the third heat and controlled the race until the final 10 metres, when the Englishwoman drew level. A throw to the line was going to decide who won.
This scrap to the line left few, in the capacity crowd, remaining on their seats. It also caused a crash in the commentary box.
Lost in the heat of the battle, feeling as part of the race as you could when wearing jeans and a shirt, I too lunged for the line in the dying metres. Too much. The swivel chair gave way and I was spread eagled on the ground, microphone in hand, looking up at the bewildered expression on the face of Anna Wilson, my co-commentator.
Photo finish. Pendleton by 10psi.
At the Beijing Olympics Pendleton dominated. Winning the best of three sprint final in two straight heats. She made it look easy. The silver to Meares was Australia’s only cycling medal of those Games.
Their rivalry resumes in Melbourne.