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Second-ranked American finishes ninth

8/27/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Mary McConneloug doesn't need much to be
happy.

She and her boyfriend spend a few months each year in Chilmark,
Mass., staying in a 10-by-10-foot cabin that has electricity but no
running water. When traveling, they spend the nights sleeping in
their van and cook most of their meals along the roadside.

So is finishing ninth at her first Olympics good enough?

"Hell, yeah! Inner gold," McConneloug said.

When racing against Norway's Gunn-Rita Dahle, "inner gold" is
the best any mountain biker can hope for.

Dahle added an Olympic gold medal to her rapidly growing list of
accomplishments Friday, dominating the women's mountain bike field
for her 15th consecutive win in an internationally sanctioned race.
Since May 2003, Dahle -- whose time was 1 hour, 56 minutes, 51
seconds -- has won 28 of 32 races she's entered.

Canada's Marie-Helene Premont won the silver in 1:57:50, and
reigning world champion Sabine Spitz of Germany got the bronze in
1:59:21.

"Even though I've been winning a lot this year, this is a great
moment. I can't describe what it means," Dahle said. "The next
minutes, the next hours, the next days will describe what Olympic
gold means to me."

Dahle's winning margin should have been ever larger; she lost
about 90 seconds midway through the race because of a problem with
her bike. She hopped off, fixed it and moved on.

"A little technical problem during the race is pretty much
normal, although it made it a little kind of extra entertaining,"
she said.

McConneloug's day was relatively problem-free, unlike her trip
to Athens.

She got her Olympic spot only after an arbitrator, New York
attorney David W. Rivkin, ruled that USA Cycling failed to follow
its own selection criteria when naming Sue Haywood of Davis, W.Va.,
to the Olympic team instead of McConneloug. USA Cycling said
Haywood had 1,489 points; McConneloug 1,488.

Haywood's total included 15 points from a race in Idaho, a
result never forwarded to the International Cycling Union -- the
sport's governing body and official keeper of rankings. USA
Cycling's criteria was to be based on the official ranking, and
without the Idaho race McConneloug was 14 points ahead.

"USA Cycling should have announced that they were going to
amend the official rules. ... To do it after the fact, after the
points race had closed, wasn't right," said Rivkin, who introduced
himself to McConneloug after the race.

McConneloug, ranked No. 2 behind Dahle, started on the first row
but dropped back to 15th after one lap and never made it into medal
contention.

Her plan was to start conservatively and slowly catch up. She
managed to pass a handful of riders, yet finished in 2:06:12 -- 9:21
behind Dahle and 6:51 behind Spitz, the bronze winner.

"I just kind of flubbed the first three minutes," McConneloug
said. "It was hard. ... I did what I could."

Dahle's gold was her country's first in cycling since 1972. She
grabbed a Norwegian flag while nearing the finish, coasting across
the line as it unfurled behind her.

"I have yet to figure out what makes her so good," McConneloug
said. "I watch her and physically, she's just so strong. ... She's
very hard and very serious about this. I aspire to her status one
day."