Pain is fuel to Tyler Hamilton, and he had plenty to power him to the first gold medal won by a U.S. cyclist in an Olympic time trial. Hamilton, who finished fourth in the 2003 Tour de France despite riding with a broken collarbone for nearly the entire race, arrived in Athens still suffering from a badly bruised back that had forced him to withdraw from the '04 Tour on July 17. He had been touted as a challenger to Lance Armstrong going into that race and was in 13th place when he crashed during the sixth stage; he dropped out a week later. Hamilton was hoping to ease that disappointment with a strong performance in Athens.
He did that and more. On the greatest day of Olympic road cycling for the U.S., the 33-year-old Hamilton won the 29.8mile time trial along the Saronic Gulf by 18.84 seconds. Turning in the best time after Hamilton's 57:31.74 was U.S. Postal Service team cyclist Viacheslav Ekimov of Russia, 38, the defending Olympic gold medalist who had helped Armstrong win his record sixth straight Tour last month. Winning the bronze was Bobby Julich of Texas, 32, who also was riding with an injury (broken right wrist) he had suffered in the Tour.
Just hours before the men's race, two other Americans had fared well in the 14.9mile women's time trial. Dede Demet-Barry--whose grandfather hailed from the Athens area and whose husband, Michael, is also a U.S. Postal rider--won the silver medal (24.09 seconds off the winning time of Leontien Zijlaard--van Moorsel of the Netherlands), and Christine Thorburn, a postdoctoral fellow in rheumatology at Stanford, finished fourth, 20 seconds from a bronze. Never before had U.S. road cyclists won three Olympic medals in a single day. "Lance has put cycling on the board for America," Hamilton said of Armstrong, who won a bronze in the 2000 Sydney Olympics time trial but skipped these Games. "Today Dede, Bobby and I showed that there is a lot of depth."
For Hamilton the victory was the biggest of his nine-year pro career, and it has him thinking ahead to next year's Tour--instead of dwelling on this year's failed attempt. "This gold medal is everything," he said. "I don't feel any hurt from last month now." --B.C.