Veteran American Kristin Armstrong completed a remarkable Olympic cycling hat-trick of gold medals after coming out of retirement for the second time to win the women’s 29.7km time-trial in Rio on Wednesday.
Just a day before she turns 43, Armstrong added to her gold medals from Beijing and London to become the first cyclist to win three Games titles in the same discipline.
“I don’t have words to describe it. When you’ve already been two times at the pinnacle of the sport, why risk coming back for the gold medal? The best answer I can give is that I can,” said Armstrong, who retired after each of her two previous Olympic success, only to come back in search of more glory.
In wet and windy conditions, she posted a time of 44min 26.42sec to edge out Russian Olga Zabelinskaya, who only returned from an 18-month doping suspension last year, by 5.55sec, with Olympic road race champion Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands third at 11.38sec.
Armstrong said she was inspired by her American team-mate Mara Abbott’s near miss in the road race, when she was heading for gold only to be caught 150 metres from the line and settling for fourth.
“Today the stars aligned. I knew it was going to be a close race. My coach said to me, ‘OK, you decide what colour medal you want to have.’
“I dug so deep. I thought about Mara, and I gave everything for her in the final 5km. To hear the national anthem on the podium, that’s my favourite part of the Olympics,” added Armstrong, who was greeted at the finish with a hug from her five-year-old son Lucas.
Armstrong, a two-time world champion, hit the first time check atop the 1.3km Grumari climb after 10km with a 4.9sec lead over Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy and 6.32sec to Van der Breggen.
Zabelinskaya was sixth then but by the second, at the top of the 2.1km Grota Funda climb and 10km from the finish, she was first, 2.88sec ahead of Armstrong with Longo Borghini third at 6.98sec.
Armstrong, though, finished the strongest and pulled back the time she’d lost on the second climb to streak down the final descent and claim the gold medal.
Zabelinskaya was only allowed to race after the Court of Arbitration for Sport reversed an IOC ruling that banned Russian athletes from the Games that had already served a doping suspension.
Four years ago in London she won bronze medals in both the time-trial and road race.
“It’s very important, because it’s the Olympic Games. It’s important for me, and for Russia,” she said.
The treacherous conditions caught out 2013 world champion Ellen van Dijk, who skidded off the road and into a ditch, although without hitting the deck.
That mistake perhaps cost the Dutch rider a medal as she finished fourth, just 11sec behind her team-mate Van der Breggen. – AFP