U.S. picks up three medals in cycling

Updated: August 18, 2004, 1:44 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Tyler Hamilton's gold led a U.S. three-medal haul in the Olympic cycling time trials Wednesday, staking the American team's claim as king of the road races.

Hamilton's teammate Bobby Julich picked up the bronze in the time trial, hours after Dede Barry won the silver in the women's race. No other nation in the Olympics has won more than two medals in the four road events.

"I believe we are one of the best cycling countries in the world, with Lance Armstrong winning the last six Tour de Frances and great results here today," Hamilton said. "It says a lot about U.S. cycling."

Hamilton edged defending men's time trial gold medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov of Russia by about 19 seconds, taking home the first American road gold since 1984 -- when Alexi Grewal won the road race in Los Angeles.

Those games were boycotted by the cycling-strong Eastern Bloc nations. The world's best were here Wednesday, and Hamilton took them all down.

"Fantastic. Unbelievable. It hasn't sunk it yet," Hamilton said. "I gave it everything I had. I've been angry ever since crashing out of the Tour, and I took that anger out here today."

Julich wasn't slowed by a broken a right wrist, an injury he suffered in the 13th stage of the Tour de France -- the same stage where Hamilton bowed out of cycling's premier race with a back injury.

"The women set the bar pretty high this morning," Julich said. "We tried to do even better.''

Christine Thorburn was fourth in the women's time trial, giving the U.S. contingent plenty of reason to celebrate. And that party only got bigger as the day went on.

"I trained with Tyler and Bobby on this course, and I knew they were strong," Barry said. "I'm so excited for them."

In the women's race, Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel of the Netherlands -- who suffered hip and shoulder injuries in a fall late in Sunday's road race -- successfully defended her gold medal by covering the 14.9-mile course in 31 minutes, 11.53 seconds.

Barry was 24.09 seconds back. Switzerland's Karin Thuerig won the bronze, edging Thorburn by 19.93 seconds.

"I'm ecstatic," said Barry, an alternate on the 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams. "The last 10 minutes, waiting to see what would happen, were a little stressful. But I'm so happy. Everything worked out. It's such a great feeling."

Another hot day -- 87 degrees at race time, which felt like 94 with humidity factored in -- took a severe toll on the women's time trialers. Most wilted badly in the second half of the race, which stretched along the coast of the Saronic Gulf.

Van Moorsel's time at the midway point was 15:09; Barry's 15:33. They were virtually even in the second half of the course, both needing only about 16 minutes to finish.

By comparison, British hopeful Nicole Cooke needed 17:26 to finish the final 7.4 miles. Sweden's Susanne Ljungskog, the world's third-ranked time trialer coming into the race, took 18:18 coming home. Take away van Moorsel and Barry, and the average time needed for the field to finish the race's second half was 17 minutes.

Thorburn was the only women's rider who improved her place dramatically following the midway point, going from eighth there to fourth at the finish.

"I'm happy with my effort," Thorburn said. "It was pretty warm, but there was a little breeze. That helped a little bit."

When Barry finished, eight riders were still on the course. Only van Moorsel was up to Barry's challenge.

"Anytime van Moorsel gets on her time trial bike, she's the favorite," U.S. women's road cycling coach Jim Miller said.

Doctors originally thought van Moorsel's Olympic quest -- she won three golds in Sydney and sought to defend all three in Athens -- ended in the Sunday crash where she clipped the wheel of another rider and fell hard to the pavement.

"After my crash, I thought it was over," van Moorsel said. "I didn't want to end my career in a bad way."

She didn't, pushing her way to a fourth career Olympic gold. She'll try for a fifth Saturday at the velodrome in the women's individual pursuit, which she says will be her last race.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press