Armstrong lives dream
Hometown edge helps Boise rider win gold
BEIJING - Standing on the medal podium, looking out at the Great Wall, and hearing "The Star-Spangled Banner" blare in her honor, American cyclist Kristin Armstrong was still fighting a bit of disbelief.
"I couldn't really believe it," she said.
Believe it. She'll forever be introduced as an Olympic champion, just the second American female cyclist to earn that title.
Armstrong won the gold medal in the road time trial yesterday, her time of 34 minutes 51.72 seconds over the 14.6-mile course nearly a half-minute better than Britain's Emma Pooley. Armstrong joined only Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who won the road race at Los Angeles 24 years ago, as US women's cycling gold medalists.
"Awesome," Armstrong mumbled through her tears as she wrapped her arms around husband Joe Savola at the finish line. "It's so awesome."
Christine Thorburn was fifth in the race for the US team, missing a medal by about three seconds in her Olympic farewell.
Switzerland's Karin Thurig was third, about a minute off Armstrong's time. French legend Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli - 49 years old, in her seventh Olympics - was fourth, just ahead of Thorburn, whose in-helmet radio conked out during the race and left her unable to know split times.
Nonetheless, Thorburn was thrilled for Armstrong.
"She's been preparing impeccably for the last four years, frankly," Thorburn said. "She was totally ready and totally deserving."
It completes a stirring cycle for Armstrong, who turned to cycling only after arthritis in her hips forced her to abandon a career as a professional triathlete. She made the 2004 Olympic team, but was left off the two-woman roster for the time trial in Athens, a decision that pained her deeply.
In the end, it worked out perfectly.
"The moment that I had today, it's one of those dreams you have as a child in America," Armstrong said.
And now, maybe she'll stop being asked if she's related to that other Armstrong, the one named Lance who has seven Tour de France championships on his résumé. (She's not.) She one-upped Lance yesterday - his best Olympic finish was a bronze.
The seeds for this Beijing triumph were planted halfway around the world, in her hometown of Boise.
Using GPS equipment and Google maps, Armstrong somehow figured out there was a course on nearby Idaho roads that almost perfectly matched the climbs and descents of the terrain in Beijing. So for six weeks before heading to China, she trained over and over on that stretch of road, hoping for a little hometown advantage in Beijing.
"Man, it's indescribable," US coach Jim Miller said. "We had splits we wanted to hit from the get-go and she was on top of every one. . . . There wasn't a stone we left unturned and she got the reward."