For a brief time, Kristin Armstrong thought her competitive cycling days were over. She had a gold medal from the Beijing Olympics and a beautiful little boy named Lucas, and since it felt right, she retired.
Six weeks after giving birth, she went for a bike ride. Twenty-two months after the delivery, she found herself at an Olympic start line Wednesday, defending the women’s time trial gold medal she captured in 2008. That she won again could have been expected. That she won by more than 15 seconds, after the birth and the retirement and a broken collarbone, surprised even Armstrong.
“This is an amazing moment,” she said.
If the event and the result felt similar to Beijing, everything else was different. Armstrong, 38, said she felt like the favorite in China. When she looked at the start list Wednesday, she felt nine women were capable of beating her.
Lucas made it different, too. As she prepared for the London Games, she changed her schedule to accommodate both her training needs and caring for him. Where she once put off training rides until the afternoon, she started to do them by 9 a.m. or not do them at all.
“My son refocused me,” Armstrong said.
It mattered less when, in May, she crashed at a race in California, alone, and broke her collarbone. She recovered from that and continued to race domestically, far from the elite competition she would face at the Olympics. She crashed Sunday, too, at the base of Box Hill, in Surrey, in the women’s road race.
Armstrong said she took a cautious approach to turns Wednesday as a result of those crashes, calling her turns a “little bit Grandma-like.” Still, Judith Arndt of Germany, who won the silver medal, said she considered Armstrong the favorite.
“I’m not surprised she won,” Arndt said.
Six weeks after she gave birth, Armstrong hopped back on a bike. She felt so anxious, though, and paranoid, like “I almost wanted to get those mirrors” for a rear view, she said Wednesday. She talked to other mothers, though, who told her that was normal.
What followed was a melding of two worlds, that of mother and elite cyclist. On Wednesday, Armstrong won her second gold medal, the third gold ever won by a woman on USA Cycling. It looks like Armstrong will retire now, perhaps this time for good.
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