Olympic Games tough, yet rewarding experience

Olympic Games tough, yet rewarding experience

Kristin Armstron of the United States, passes through the gates at Hampton Court Palace on her way to winning the gold medal in the Women’s Olympic Cycling Time Trial in London on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

The Olympic Games are an event like no other.

Every four years the world comes together for 16 days to celebrate and compete. The London Games boast 193 countries and 11 territories and more than 10,000 athletes in 26 sports.

Twenty years ago I was fortunate enough to have earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Cycling Team in Barcelona, Spain. To this day, it remains one of my proudest personal achievements, but also the most disappointing.

For Olympic Day this year I spoke in front of about 200 kids at the Lincoln Park barn. One of the questions asked was, “is it fun to compete in the Olympics?”

I had to pause for a moment before I answered the question. A mixture of emotions and memories flooded my head. My answer was probably not what the boy expected to hear. Competing in the Games is a lot of fun; but the work required to get there is not.

After my teammates and I had won the Olympic Trials in the 100k team time trial, the real work began. We went back to the training center in Colorado Springs and spent several months refining our strength, speed and technique.

My most vivid memory involves hours behind the motorcycle at 30-40 miles an hour. Those were some of the hardest workouts of my life.

When we arrived in Spain, we felt we had a legitimate chance at a top-five finish and perhaps a chance at a medal. Our times in training had improved by about three minutes, which put us on pace for a 2-hour time.

Our race was the opening event of the Games, which meant we could not participate in the Opening Ceremonies.

A 100k team time trial is a four-person event against the clock. Three riders must finish together and there is no support, with the exception of mechanical failures.

Each rider pushes the wind for 15-30 seconds and then slips to the back to recover. The effort is the equivalent of an all-out sprint and a rider will do this approximately 100 times.

Race day was over 90 degrees with nearly 100 percent humidity. Our plan was to start steady and gradually increase the tempo as the race wore on.

Our first mishap happened 15 kilometers into the race when George Hincapie got a flat rear tire. This was followed a few minutes later with another flat and finally a bike change a few minutes after that.

Not 25 kilometers into the race and we had already had three mechanical events and were minutes down.

The next mishap occurred because the spare bikes had only one water bottle so George was out by 60k. It wasn’t long before he could not continue. We were now down to three riders with about 40k to race.

A few kilometers later, Nate Sheafor also succumbed to the heat. But John and I could not leave him. The time was taken when the third rider crossed the line, so we waited. At times we were riding at a social pace.

When we crossed the line we were well out of the medals and over 10 minutes slower than we expected. We finished in 16th place.

The Olympic Creed states:

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

This is the part that still haunts me 20 years after the event. We prepared well. We struggled. But on the day of the event, we did not fight well.

We did not cross the line knowing that we had done all we could. Some of the events were out of our control. Whether we medaled was really irrelevant; rather we wanted to be able to say that we had left everything on the road. We felt as if we had embarrassed ourselves, our sport and our nation.

Sometimes in life there are no mulligans, no second chances. As I watch the London Games, I can appreciate the joy of the Olympics. But I mostly appreciate the struggle of the athletes as they achieve a pinnacle in their lives. And finally, I hope that they feel they have fought well.

Good riding.


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