In winning a road race of nearly 50 miles over Southern
California hill and dale on a broiling Sunday morning, U.S.
cyclist Connie Carpenter-Phinney made Olympic history by a mere
eight inches. That slim margin of victory was achieved only when
she thrust her bike forward by the handlebars at the finish
line, much in the manner of a youngster clearing a curb. Her
winning time of 2 hours, 11 minutes, 14 seconds for the 79.2
kilometers was matched not only by silver medalist Rebecca Twigg
of the U.S. and bronze winner Sandra Schumacher of West Germany
but also by fourth- and fifth-place finishers Unni Larsen of
Norway and Maria Canins of Italy.
The latter three cyclists started their final sprints some 500
meters from the finish. Twigg made her move 100 meters or so
later, and Carpenter-Phinney, a powerful sprinter despite her
slender 5'10", 130-pound figure, didn't accelerate until just
200 meters remained. For a time she despaired of overtaking
Twigg, who moved into the lead with 100 meters left, but
Carpenter-Phinney caught her just three meters from the end and
then lunged past her for the gold--and her chapter in the annals
of the Games.
Carpenter-Phinney had won the first women's cycling event in
Olympic history. She had become the first American to win any
cycling medal since Carl Schutte captured a bronze at the 1912
Stockholm Games. In one race she and Twigg had equaled the total
medal count for individual U.S. cyclists in all previous
Olympics. And had Connie's husband of 10 months, Davis Phinney,
won the men's road race later that same day--and he was among
the favorites going in--they would have become the first
American husband and wife to win individual golds in any sport.
Alas, he finished fifth, although he would later win a bronze in
the men's team time trial five days later.
Carpenter-Phinney's thrilling victory came in the only women's
cycling event at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. However, when the
women's road race is held today on the streets of Atlanta, it
will be one of six women's races in the 1996 Olympics.
Carpenter-Phinney was an amazingly versatile athlete. At 14, and
with minimal experience, she competed on the U.S. speed skating
team at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, finishing seventh
in the 1,500 meters. But a chronic ankle injury caused her to
abandon that sport shortly before the 1976 Games. It was then,
at the urging of Olympic skater-cyclist Sheila Young, among
others, that Connie Carpenter turned to cycling. She won two
national championships, road race and pursuit, in her first year
on the bike, but she quit the circuit for a year after the 1979
season out of frustration over the lack of competition and
opportunities for women in the sport. In '80 she rowed on the
University of California's national champion four oars with cox.
Largely due to Phinney's persuasiveness, she returned to cycling
after graduating from Cal in '81.
"Connie clearly hadn't reached her potential," said Davis, who
had met Carpenter at a race in Arizona in '78. "She didn't have
that kind of singular focus or direction." He provided that
direction, and by the '84 Games she had won a record 12 national
championships plus four world titles. By 9:30 a.m. on the day of
her Olympic debut, the temperature had climbed to 92 degrees,
but she was ready. Said Davis, of Connie's performance leading
up to the Games, "She reminded me of a thoroughbred racehorse."
However, the historic Olympic race was her last. She retired
that very day, at 27, preferring thereafter to root for her
husband, who competed successfully--five national
championships--as a professional until two years ago.
The couple, parents of two children, Taylor, 6, and Kelsey, 2,
lives in Boulder, Colo., and operates a variety of business
enterprises there, including a bike shop, an apparel company and
summer cycling camps. "We're very fortunate," says Connie, "to
have made a living out of a sport that was basically just a
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Carpenter-Phinney (left) caught Twigg at the wire and held on for a celebratory hug. [Connie Carpenter-Phinney and Rebecca Twigg]