Phinney tries to save individual pursuit

Updated: December 7, 2009, 9:22 PM ET
Associated Press

Taylor Phinney is getting some last-minute help in the quest to keep his specialty event on the Olympic cycling program.

Hard copies of an online petition with 4,408 signatures were sent to the International Olympic Committee on Monday, just two days before the group's executive board is to convene in Switzerland for a meeting.

The IOC meeting is Wednesday and Thursday. Changing the Olympic cycling program, with moves that would eliminate endurance track events such as the individual pursuit, from the 2012 London Games is expected to be among the items on the agenda.

Phinney, the 19-year-old American cycling phenom from Boulder, Colo., is the reigning world champion in the individual pursuit.

"This decision [would] forever change track cycling," said Phinney's father, former Tour de France stage winner Davis Phinney. "And at a huge loss in my view."

Some of the names on the petition include Phinney's father and mother, 1984 Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter-Phinney; American cyclists including Alexi Grewal, Connie Paraskevin, Sheila Young, and Roger Young; 1980 Olympic cycling gold medalist Victor V. Manakov; and racer Eddy Merckx.

"I wouldn't have started the petition if I didn't have some hope," said Kirk Port, a cycling enthusiast who started the online petition and has been in contact with the Phinney family. "I'm hoping that the totality of all of the various voices that have raised their objections to the UCI proposal for the 2012 Olympic track cycling program will affect the final decision."

The International Cycling Union, or UCI, has asked the IOC to add other events to the 2012 program, part of a gender parity plan. To allow for those, individual pursuit and points races -- two track endurance events -- were targeted for removal, news that Phinney said he found "devastating."

So he went on the offensive, with some help.

Phinney launched a Twitter campaign, his mentor Lance Armstrong appealed personally to the UCI to keep pursuit in the Olympic program, and dozens of other cyclists have spoken out in support.

"It fits with the most basic Olympic ideals, 'the highest, the fastest, the strongest, the furthest,'" said 1992 Olympic pursuit gold medalist Chris Boardman of Britain. "The general public get it. It's a straight race, man against man or woman against woman and the first across the line wins. It is easy to relate to an individual."

Individual pursuit is an iconic event in track cycling. Races last four kilometers for men, three kilometers for women, with only two competitors on the track, starting opposite one another. Racers pedal as fast as they can, chasing the other, for around four minutes without stopping.

"It doesn't take a strong nation to compete, just an individual, so it lends itself to countries with small budgets, unlike the team events," Boardman said.

The UCI's proposed Olympic program is believed to include the same five gold medal events for men and women: individual sprint, team sprint, keirin, team pursuit and the five-race omnium event. Under that plan, five endurance races -- in men's and women's individual pursuit and points races, plus the men's madison -- would be dropped.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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