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FREE WHEELING REBECCA TWIGG HAS NEVER PEDALED WITH THE PACK, AND SHE DOESN'T PLAN TO START NOW

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Rebecca Twigg, sitting at a wobbly little black table in a
Colorado Springs Starbucks, pulls down the neck of her
sweatshirt and leans toward you. "Feel," she says.

Relax. This woman you don't misinterpret. Twigg, a computer
programmer, has already shot her bright, pale-amber gaze right
through your retinas, inspected your neurocircuitry and rightly
decided her topic must be the Power of Mind. "I don't know if
people really know what positive attitude is," she says, as you
tentatively move your hand toward the base of her neck. "I broke
my collarbone just before the world championships last
September. I was doing laps at the bottom of the velodrome here,
and I didn't think anyone else was on the track."

But Craig Griffin, one of the U.S. coaches, was on the track
drilling one of her teammates. "I looked up at the last second,"
says Twigg, closing her eyes and remembering again the crash
that snapped her right clavicle. "I could have cried and gotten
lawyers, but the thing to do was forge ahead."

How do you forge anywhere on a racing bike if your collarbone
can't bear weight? She guides your fingertip to what feels like
a ruler's edge running horizontally under the translucent skin
of her upper chest. Her surgeon used a titanium plate and seven
screws to hold the pieces of her clavicle together. "Good he put
this plate in," she says. "Aside from it giving me some
structural stability, he found bone chips around an artery."

Eleven days later she was ready to race. Never mind that the
worlds were in 8,500-foot-high Bogota, Colombia. "The higher the
altitude, the less wind drag, so the faster you can go," she
says briskly.

But wait. Altitude subtracts oxygen. And the 3,000-meter
individual pursuit takes almost four minutes. Doesn't she have
to breathe? "Of course I do," she says, "but I was
altitude-trained from Colorado."

Didn't she catch a terrible cold just before the worlds? "Yeah,
yeah. It felt like that was even worse than the fracture," she
says.

And didn't she watch two of her opponents break her world record
of 3:37.347 in the prelims while she felt sluggish in the first
round? "O.K., I grant you, I really had no reasonable
expectation to do well."

Her positive thinking is quite beyond reason. Feeling, she says,
"not completely drained" after her semifinal, she resolved to
spend herself completely in the final. Which is all the
3,000-meter individual pursuit ever asks.

Twigg calls her defining event, in which she had been five times
the world champion, "an absolutely pure race" because the
cyclists compete in pairs and start on opposite sides of the
track. It is therefore free of pack or sprint cycling's damnable
drafting and hurry-up-and-wait Alphonse-and-Gaston tactics. "The
pursuit requires you to go as fast as you can without blowing
up," says Twigg. "You have to set a pace. And you have to hold
it." When the cyclist is holding on at 30 mph over the last
searing laps, the true pursuit is all inward, all alone, all
trust in one's unrelenting soul.

In the Bogota final Twigg cycled with steel control. She crossed
the line in a world-record 3:36.081. Her victory was doubly
astonishing in that it came 11 years after she had won the
silver medal in the 1984 Olympic women's road race.

Now 33 looking 23, Twigg is filled with such fire and focus that
you can't help but ask how she got that way. It is a question
that Twigg, eyeing you over her black coffee, is prepared to
indulge, albeit in the faintly distant, I'll-be-the-
judge-of-that manner of one sublimely resistant to irrelevancy.

Twigg was born in Honolulu but grew up in the Seattle area. Her
father, David, a computer programmer, and her mother, Barbara,
who worked at various jobs, divorced when she was young. Rebecca
and her younger sister, Laura, were raised by their
mother--raised to be resolutely self-sufficient.

By the time Rebecca finished eighth grade, it was clear she was
exceedingly bright, so Barbara had a fateful idea. She urged
Rebecca to skip high school and matriculate at the University of
Washington. Which Rebecca did, at 14. "My mother wanted me to
avoid having problems socializing in high school," says Twigg.
Yet what would have been merely difficult for the shy
perfectionist in ninth grade was almost impossible on the vast,
40,000-student campus, where Twigg felt walled off from the life
of the other students. "Grades apart," remembers Twigg. "I had
low self-esteem."

Barbara tugged this upward by steering Rebecca into sports,
especially cycling. For four years, in lieu of a true
adolescence, Rebecca created herself as a bike racer. "I first
trained on a bike my mother got at a police auction," she says.
"Then it was stolen and we didn't have money for another, but
one day Mom recognized it and followed the kid riding it and saw
where he lived. We went back at night to resteal that bike. The
people were eating dinner, and Mom crept right under the window
and snatched it. We needed that bike."

Racing with appropriate desperation, Twigg soon was dominating
U.S. junior girls' road and track cycling. In 1980 she was
spotted by national-team coach Eddie Borysewicz. "He saw I could
carry my sprint a long way, so he tried me in the pursuit," says
Twigg. But the Polish-born Eddie B, the central figure in the
rise of U.S. cycling during the '80s, soon saw much more. "She's
a lady who, if she likes, she can do," he says. "Age is no
factor. Mind, dedication, health are main factors. Every 50
years there is born one."

In 1981 Twigg elected to ride as a senior in the national
women's pursuit championship, though at 17 she was a year away
from automatically moving to that level. She won and went on to
place fifth at the '81 worlds. The following year she defeated
Connie Carpenter of the U.S. in the final to win her first world
pursuit title. The pursuit was not yet an Olympic event for
women, however, so Twigg, at Borysewicz's urging, moved to
Colorado Springs to train for the first Olympic women's road
race, which was to be contested in 1984 at Los Angeles.

As the world gathered for those Olympics, rumors spread that
some European cyclists were engaging in blood-doping, the
then-permissible process of withdrawing one to two pints of
blood, storing it for several weeks while the body regenerates
blood, then reinjecting it, thereby boosting (at least in
theory) the body's oxygen-carrying capacity and endurance. "It
was the week before the Games," says Twigg. "I don't know whose
idea it was, but the person who talked to us [the U.S. cyclists]
about it was Eddie B. Our blood was taken in a hotel room. It
was totally dumb because there wasn't enough time to regenerate
anything. It was unnecessary and ineffective and could have
wrecked the team."

Carpenter refused to let her blood be drawn. Twigg, to her
regret, did not refuse. Later the experience would act to
strengthen her independence, but at the time the distraction was
such a drain that it may have cost her the gold medal.

Six riders were in contention at the end of the 50-mile Olympic
road race. With 200 meters to go, Twigg sprinted into the lead.
Carpenter was close behind. Heading up the last hill, Carpenter
came around, throwing her bike over the line inches ahead of
Twigg's.

Twigg accepted the silver medal knowing there would be other
chances for her, and indeed the years following the Olympics saw
a succession of record-setting track races and road victories.
She won world pursuit titles in 1984, '85 and '87. She raced
more than 60 times a year.

During this time, the stresses on Twigg grew. In late 1985 she
married Mark Whitehead, a man as outspoken as she was shy. Her
stubbornness was a factor in her decision to tie the knot. "I
remember telling my friends, 'Whaddya mean, I can't marry him?'"
she says. In 1986, Twigg's mother died. A year later Twigg and
Whitehead were divorced. "I want this to be diplomatic," she
says. "We were young. Call it a difference of core values."

You look up, thinking to press for some illustrative detail.
Twigg's face stops you cold. Hers is the Olympian's plight of
having equally high expectations in love and sport. She is
galled not to have done better, not to have willed success in
the chancy realm of human intimacy.

She soon found cycling chancy enough. In 1987, while she was
training with a pack of riders in Corpus Christi, Texas, her
rear wheel detached and she went over the handlebars, suffering
a concussion, broken thumb and cuts on her head that required 13
stitches. The next year flu, colds and a fear of riding in the
peloton--a fear she had not shaken after the training
accident--reduced her to a noncontender in the three Olympic
trials road races. "I had never previously gotten sick before an
important race," she says. "I wouldn't let myself. So, since I
was sick all the time, my body was telling me I didn't want to
be riding." So she retired. And at age 26, freed of the energy
drain of her cycling training, she grew an inch, to 5'7 1/2".
Talk about delayed adolescence.

She hardly went berserk. She enrolled at Coleman College in San
Diego, took an associate degree in computer science to go with
her bachelor's in biology from Washington, and worked from 1989
to '91 as a programmer for Kelco, a seaweed-products company in
San Diego. The job was not a perfect fit. A congenital improver,
Twigg no longer had anything to improve. When she refined a
company computer-maintenance program, she was called on the
carpet.

All it took to lure her back to cycling was hearing in 1991 that
the women's 3,000-meter pursuit had been added to the '92 Games.
Nine months of training brought her the bronze medal. In '93 she
won her fifth world pursuit title, in a record time of 3:37.347,
and she topped that with her gritty display in Bogota last fall.

The three-bedroom brick house in Colorado Springs that Twigg
bought last year, and which she has redecorated, is proof that
her perfectionism applies to more than cycling. The bathroom
walls are covered with densely patterned wallpaper that she cut,
matched and fit tediously, masterfully. "I didn't sleep one hour
until it was done," she says. "I was afraid to."

The white carpet's edges have been sculptured to leave bare
borders of hardwood floor. The effect is of an icy pond breaking
up in spring. She hates to spare the time from training for such
projects. "But I'm driven to do a good job," she says. "I'm
always torn."

Because of her scientific background, it seems natural to ask
how she has been helped by the physical testing that is so
prevalent in sports medicine. She twists in her seat. Her 125
pounds are concentrated in her bones and bolts and magnificent
engine of quads and hamstrings, making the rest of her seem
fragile, lending the rest of her an air of gentleness. But not
now.

"Testing, smesting!" she snorts. "How can you know all the
things to test?" Twigg only grudgingly takes part in the
standardized fitness tests that most other U.S. Olympic cyclists
go through. Rarely does she train with a heart monitor. "I know
myself," she says.

With Twigg, always hovering near is the theme of mind, how it
can affect everything, and everything can affect it. "You can be
too focused," she says. "It leads to overtraining, the signs of
which for me are canker sores and not sleeping well. You have to
listen to your body, take the chance of an easy day."

These intuitions, these listenings, are leaps of faith but not
blind ones. Few know better than an athlete the power of belief.
So it is hardly surprising that Twigg, searcher, improver,
pursuer, has for the last two years sought and increasingly
found such a soothing connection with the cosmos that she now
terms it God. "My sister is a Christian missionary in Asia,"
says Twigg, "but before, when I had tried to intellectualize
religion, I always found holes in it. Then two years ago, when I
tried to feel it, something was there."

The occasion was a difficult one. Twigg had broken off a lengthy
relationship with boyfriend Jame Carney. "The pain was...
considerable," she says. "My sister prayed for me, and within
days there was an easing. Then I prayed, though it felt really
unnatural. It took a week and a half before it felt
not-unnatural. Then there was"--her head cocks like that of a
robin on a lawn--"not a blinding moment, but practicing this
praying, I started feeling calm and fulfilled. I'd also been
given Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda. I read
it and felt similarities with Christianity. Where different
religions converge, that's where the truth is." She stresses
another point: It may appear that her insight came in answer to
need, but she feels it was discovery. She pursued and was
rewarded.

So she heads to Atlanta with nervous joy. "I absolutely don't
like the sterility of incessant competition," she says. "The
proving of yourself day after day. But I love the big races,
where all the best are. The Olympic races are so big almost
everyone is happy just to make it there, so I'm not going to
wreck their lives if I win."

She lifts her hands as if from the handlebars, presses her palms
together and points her fingers forward, as if carving out a
little V of air ahead of her, a space to slip into as she breaks
from the pack.

She is asked if longtime nemesis Jeannie Longo of France would
be so happy with a Twigg victory in Atlanta. "There are
exceptions," says Twigg quickly, wryly. "I can handle
exceptions."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES [Rebecca Twigg wearing dress and riding bicycle; Rebecca Twigg riding racing bicycle]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES A SILVER MEDALIST ON THE ROAD IN '84, TWIGG (OUTSIDE COLORADO SPRINGS) IS EVEN BETTER ON THE TRACK [Rebecca Twigg riding bicycle]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES THE IRON-WILLED TWIGG HAS A TITANIUM PLATE HOLDING TOGETHER HER COLLARBONE, BROKEN IN A 1995 CRASH [Rebecca Twigg riding bicycle]