The women's cycling omnium event delivered one of the most frightening moments of the Olympics, with nearly half of the field in the first scratch race not finishing due to crashes.
The second-to-last lap of the race saw two collisions. The first, less serious one came at the back of the pack when Yao Pang of Hong Kong went down and ended up taking Lithuania's Olivija Baleisyte with her.
The big one came just seconds later.?
In the middle of the pack, Italy's Elisa Balsamo lost control of her bike and directly hit Ireland's Emily Kay. The two-time defending gold medalist in the omnium, Laura Kenny of Great Britain, immediately went down in the collateral damage behind the pair, as did Poland's Daria Pikulik, Belgium's Lotte Kopecky and France's Carla Copponi. That would have been the end of it, except Balsamo continued to slide toward the inside of the track and went directly under the wheels of Egypt's Ebtissam Zayed Ahmed.
The net result was nine DNFs in a field of 21, with a two-time gold medalist among them. The carnage would have reached double digits had Amalie Dideriksen of Denmark not displayed supernatural reflexes in avoiding the developing crash in front of her.
The crash's victims weren't limited to athletes either, as Noreen Landis-Tyson, the president of the commissaire's panel, was hit in the resulting chaos. NBC reported that Landis-Tyson was conscious immediately after the race, but on a stretcher.
Crash loomed large in American's gold medal
The fortunate riders were mostly those in front of the crash. Team USA's Jennifer Valente finished first in the race to take the maximum 40 points to open the four-race competition. The women's omnium is a combination of four different races: scratch, tempo, elimination and points. The nine cyclists who didn't finish the scratch race only received 16 points.
That turned out to be a fortunate break for Valente, who proceeded to go wire-to-wire to capture the gold medal in the event with 124 points. It's the first time the U.S. has won the event, men or women, in the history of the event, which goes back to 2012.
Yumi Kajihara of Japan took silver while Kirsten Wild of the Netherlands took bronze. Dideriksen, who just managed to avoid the big crash, finished fourth. Kenny finished the highest of any cyclists involved in the crash, capturing 96 points for sixth place.
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