BEIJING -- Kristin Armstrong made her way through the throng of well-wishers at the Great Wall, locked eyes with her husband, and the emotions began to flow.
She cried. He cried. That's what some do when overcome with joy.
"Awesome," she mumbled through the tears. "It's so awesome."
For four years, she pointed to this day as her ultimate goal, and when the moment arrived, she came through in smashing fashion. Armstrong won the gold medal in the road time trial Wednesday, becoming only the second American female cyclist to capture Olympic gold, joining Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who won the road race at Los Angeles 24 years ago.
Armstrong's time of 34 minutes, 51.72 seconds over the 14.6-mile course was nearly a half-minute better than Great Britain's Emma Pooley, who set a blazing early time and dared the women's best to better her effort.
Of the 20 racers who remained on the course after Pooley finished, only Armstrong was better. And when it was over, after erasing an inexplicable moment of disbelief, she wrapped exhausted arms around husband Joe Savola and cried the happiest tears she'd ever shed.
"The moment that I had today, it's one of those dreams you have as a child in America," Armstrong said.
Switzerland's Karin Thurig was third, about a minute off Armstrong's time. French legend Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli -- at 49 years old, racing in her seventh Olympics -- was fourth and American Christine Thorburn, who was fourth in the time trial at the Athens Games four years ago, finished fifth.
It completes a stirring cycle for Armstrong. She made the 2004 Olympic team, but was left off the two-woman roster for the time trial in Athens, a decision that pained her deeply.
In the end, it worked out perfectly.
"I've tried to enjoy every bit of this whole journey," Armstrong said. "But today, today was the ultimate."
She won the bronze medal at the world championships in 2005, then was the gold medalist a year later, when she truly began believing she could find her way to the medal stand in Beijing. Armstrong was the silver medalist at last year's world championships, saying that defeat wound up motivating her even more for this race.
"It's the most amazing day of my life," Armstrong said. "I've been working for this for the last eight years, especially the last four, and to time everything right on one day is an accomplishment of its own."