Rebecca Twigg's rèsumè is enough to turn the average overachiever green with envy. She was a state-champion cyclist in her first year of racing, 1977; a college freshman at 14; a national time-trial champion at 16; and an Olympic silver medalist at 21. Things, big things, seem to have come easily to her.
But things are seldom what they seem. Yes, the 30-year-old Twigg won her fifth world championship in the 3,000-meter pursuit in August in Norway, breaking the world record in doing so. True, she was the bronze medalist in that event at the Barcelona Olympics. O.K., she's being paid well for riding a bike; she's blonde; she's pretty; and she has a great boyfriend who also happens to be a world-class cyclist, '92 Olympian J-Me Carney. Nonetheless, the road zooming by under her wheels has had some potholes.
Since her early days, when she raced on borrowed bikes in Seattle, where she grew up, Twigg has preferred the flat-out style of riding that track events demand to road racing, which is more tactical. "I really like the intensity," says Twigg of track racing. "There's no coasting." In 1984 she won four medals at the track nationals, but the only women's cycling event at the '84 Olympics was a road race, so Twigg went after that gold with everything she had.
Though she finished second to teammate Connie Carpenter-Phinney by less than a foot in the 50-mile race, Twigg's silver medal was tainted by allegations by Richard Ben Cramer in Rolling Stone that she and other U.S. cyclists had engaged in blood boosting, the practice of storing and later injecting one's own blood to improve performance. Though the procedure was not illegal then, blood boosting was very controversial.
At the time, Twigg tried to avoid the issue though she now admits—and regrets—that she had, indeed, used the process before the Olympics. She is quick to add that the pre-Olympic incident was not part of any Eastern European-style long-term training plan. "Some of the coaching staff decided at the last minute that we had to do it," Twigg says. "It was just a matter of them saying, 'This is what we need to do to help the team win.' "
One month after the L.A. Games, Twigg showed that she could beat the world's best with natural muscle and no added corpuscles. At the world championships that year in Barcelona, she won her second 3,000-meter pursuit title and set a world record in a qualifying heat. There was talk that her event would be added to the Olympic slate, and an SI article at the time, said "If that's the case, Twigg will hang around until at least 1988."
But shortly after crashing during a training session in '87, Twigg quit riding. Her back wheel apparently had not been properly tightened by a manager, and Twigg was lucky to end up with no more than a mild concussion and a broken thumb. With a mortgage to pay, she entered Coleman College, near her home in San Diego, and added a degree in computer science to her B.S. in biology from the University of Washington. The best female cyclist in the country went to work as a computer programmer.
"It was a relief not to have to get up and train regardless of the weather," she says. "But I missed being very good at something and seeing results." When the women's pursuit was finally added to the '92 Olympics, she says, "I couldn't let it goon without me."
Late in '91 she received a training grant from John Downing, a sponsor of the Women's Sports Foundation, and began to work out seriously. In June of last year she won the 3,000-meter pursuit at the Olympic trials, earning a spot on the U.S. team and setting a national record. In Barcelona, Twigg won the bronze medal, one of only two medals that U.S. cyclists received in Spain.
This year, with the backing of a full-fledged sponsor, Twigg has continued to improve. Riding for Shaklee, a vitamin and nutrition-supplement company, she won two national titles at the road championships in Dublin, Ohio, last June. Twigg now has 13 senior national titles to go along with her four junior titles. "It was hard doing it on my own," she says. "Being with a team is very helpful—not just financially; it gives racing more meaning. I'm not doing it just for myself."