VN Archives: Kristin Armstrong becomes an American Olympic superstar in 2008


Olympics – Yolo BedTime

Kristin Armstrong’s transformation from world-class cyclist to American hero began the moment she stepped off her time trial bike under the scenic Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. Reporters called her name and waved a few short words. TV cameras swarmed with the green-eyed American while two helicopters hummed overhead.

Sweaty and exhausted, Armstrong was hugged by USA Cycling staff and her husband, Joe Savola, who was less than a year old. Reporters, staff, and even Armstrong himself knew that the 34:51 time over the mountainous 23km time trial – the new record – had a hell of a good chance of holding up against the remaining five riders.

When the last rider of the day, the German Hanka Kupfernagel, came up short, Armstrong burst into tears and raised his hands in victory.

Armstrong (center) stood on the podium with Karin Thurig and Emma Pooley. Photo: Stu Forster / Getty Images

And the media machine began to roll.

At the post-race press conference, when she arrived in her hometown of Boise, Idaho, a crowd of reporters waited for Armstrong, armed with questions ranging from her preparation for the event, to her iconic Type-A personality, to her future party plans .

Some even dared to ask her to explain her relationship with Lance Armstrong.

“It’s a dream. I’ve worked really hard for this over the past four years,” said Armstrong. “I’ve been in my own world for the past six weeks. I’ve been in this little bubble. For the next two weeks, I just want to be myself sit back and relax and enjoy this moment. I want to be real – be myself. It’s time to celebrate. “

The celebration would come, but first the machine kept rolling. Next on Armstrong’s plate was NBC’s Managing Victory team – a program that guides US medalists through the often daunting amount of interviews that follow a medalist performance. The team car showed up in Badaling to kidnap Armstrong for a meeting with the NBC press. It took Matt Lauer and Al Roker a couple of hours to freshen up their cycling, so the Today Show was postponed until the next night.

Armstrong went live on NBC morning shows in Boise, Chicago and Kansas City. Then NBC’s intelligence service got a crack. It was followed by non-rights holders ESPN and CNN, as well as China Central TV, The New York Times and a number of local and national radio stations.

Unsurprisingly, she answered more questions from Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong won the UCI World Championship at ITT in 2006. Photo: Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

“I could win a gold medal and people on the street would still be asking about Lance,” she said. “But that’s OK. I don’t think he has a gold medal.”

Special attention was paid to the proverbial 15 minutes of fame that greets every new Olympic champion. But also the television appearances, news and radio interviews marked the first wave in the redefinition of Kristin Armstrong. The titles of multiple national champions and 2006 world champions no longer play a role. The term “Olympic Champion” is the one who opens doors, drops the jaw, wins sponsors, and adds zeros to paychecks.

Perhaps those thoughts shot through Armstrong’s mind as she sat on the Badaling time trial at the press conference and smiled at the cameras. Just a day after her 35th birthday, Armstrong undoubtedly realized that the risk she had taken eight years earlier with a cycling career had just paid off. Big time.

“It’s the ride of my life,” said Armstrong. “I’ve dreamed of this since I was a little kid. I have to pinch myself now. “

Bring the US back to the top

Armstrong was our cover photo after her impressive victory in 2008. Photo: VeloNews

Connie Carpenter’s win and Rebecca Twigg’s silver in the first women’s road race in Los Angeles in 1984 put the United States on the right foot for Olympic road races. But strong women from Australia and Germany as well as France’s legendary Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli excluded the US road racers from 1988 to 2008.

In the time trial, which was introduced in Atlanta in 1996, the Americans did better. Mari Holden won silver at the 2000 Games in Sydney and Dede Demet-Barry won silver in Athens in 2004. The American men’s time trial success – Lance Armstrong won bronze in 2000 and Tyler Hamilton and Bobby Julich won gold and bronze in 2004 – proved the nation’s overall strength in the race against the clock.

The United States did not select Kristin Armstrong for the 2004 time trial – a last-minute decision awarded Christine Thorburn second place who finished fourth. The decision, Armstrong said, fueled their fire to focus on the race of truth.

“Four years ago it is when [Beijing] really became a target; I said that to myself [a medal] Armstrong said.

She and her trainer Jim Miller set out to sculpt her body into a machine that could withstand high watts of exertion, the kind needed to win time trials. Armstrong, a former triathlete, switched to road cycling in 2000 after osteoarthritis in her hips prevented her from walking. But Miller found that Armstrong’s big engine – she was a former top swimmer – had no problem adapting.

“She was good from the start – I just told her she had to learn to ride a bike,” Miller said. “The big step for her was just learning how to be efficient on a bike.”

Results came quickly. In 2005 she stormed the US title and then proved that she has the legs for international competitions by taking bronze at the world championships, just 37 seconds behind the world’s best Karin Thurig from Switzerland. A year later came the result of her career – she won gold at worlds.

“To [winning bronze in 2005] I told myself I could become a medalist in Beijing, ”said Armstrong. “When I won [gold] in [2006] I knew I wanted gold. “

But first came the wake-up call. Eleven months ago, Kupfernagle grabbed Armstrong’s rainbow jersey after beating the American for 23 seconds. The defeat sent a clear message – Armstrong and Miller needed to improve their game for Beijing.

Armstrong waited for the others to finish after setting the fastest time. Photo: AXEL SCHMIDT / AFP via Getty Images

That meant dealing with the smallest details of the time trial. Miller drove to Beijing and scouted the time trial course, drove it about 30 times and gathered GPS data. The two planned a route in Boise to mimic the 23.5 km route. Armstrong went into the wind tunnel twice in 2008.

She experimented with different hip angles on her bike and balance bike combinations to get every mechanical advantage. She came to Beijing on four different bikes and nine racing bikes. Armstrong’s careful preparation earned her laughter from coaches and her US teammates. But no one doubted that it couldn’t hurt to address the little things.

“On the US team we have Type-A, Type-Double-A and Type-Triple-A,” said Thorburn. “I am double. she is [Armstrong] is threefold. “

Armstrong attributed her triple-A personality to growing up in a military family. The media was there to greet Armstrong when she landed in Boise, along with hundreds of children from the local YMCA, where she teaches swimming classes.

On August 16, Boise celebrated Kristin Armstrong Day and Armstrong led hundreds of people by bike from the YMCA to City Hall, their gold medal in the back of their jersey pocket. Boises Mayor handed Armstrong the key to the city and asked for an autograph.

Armstrong’s transformation was complete.

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