Cycling Nationals Wrap Up
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ With Olympic team members dominating the U.S. Cycling Nationals, the real drama this week occurred away from the track.
Chris Witty of Park City, Utah, already an Olympic medalist in speedskating, kept her position on the cycling team for Sydney when the U.S. Olympic Committee ruled Tammy Thomas of Yazoo City, Miss., ineligible after a test revealed a high testosterone level.
Early in the week, an arbitrator ruled in favor of sprint rider Tanya Lindenmuth of Trexlertown, Pa., in a challenge brought by her rival, Jennie Reed of Kirkland, Wash.
No other appeals reached the arbitration stage. But the legal wrangling in conjunction with the national meet made it a busy and stressful week for U.S. Cycling officials and athletes.
By Saturday, team officials only wanted to look ahead.
``We have the opportunity to gel as a team,″ said Sean Petty, director of athlete performance for U.S. Cycling. ``Everybody knows who the 27 members are. Now we can settle down and get the focus on winning medals.″
There was a sense of relief among Olympic team members. Erin Veenstra-Mirabella of Colorado Springs, who won the women’s points race Saturday, has tried to stay neutral for weeks as friends faced off in litigation.
``I understand an athlete needs to do whatever is needed to reach the Olympics,″ she said. ``Now it’s nice to be able to focus on the future. One decision makes it easier for everyone.″
U.S. Cycling based most of the selections for this year’s Olympic team on two years of international racing results. In previous years, winners from the Olympic trials were automatically awarded spots on the team.
Several riders, like team pursuit cyclist Tommy Mulkey of Athens, Ga., said the old system had liabilities. In planning their training, cyclists were forced to focus on either the trials or the Olympics.
``Either you run the risk of not qualifying so you can peak later for the Olympics or you peak for the trials and run the risk of not being in the best shape for the Olympics,″ Mulkey said.
The objective this time was to get the most experienced and accomplished athletes to Sydney. Despite the lengthened selection process, team officials said the system worked as it was designed.
``I can honestly say for the first time in probably the last three or four Olympics, we’re going to have our best athletes on the line,″ said Craig Griffin, coach of the American endurance cyclists.
By mid-afternoon Saturday, none of the cyclists named to the Olympic track team had lost a race at nationals. But some complained that arbitration hearings were distracting.
``I just don’t think it’s fair to riders who are already selected to interrupt their final preparation for the Olympics,″ said Olympian and men’s points race winner Jame Carney of Durango, Colo.
The Thomas challenge carried the highest profile because it targeted Witty, winner of two speedskating medals at the Nagano Olympics. She is trying to become the first American woman to win medals at the Summer and Winter Games.
Witty has stayed away from the velodrome since her place on the team was confirmed Friday night. Thomas reportedly left town and her lawyer didn’t return telephone messages seeking comment Saturday.
Petty knew the challenges would roll in eventually. He noted that the Australians, who use a similar selection process, had 48 challenges filed for their Olympic roster, compared to four in the U.S.
``When you open it up to discretion, you know there’s going to be challenges,″ Petty said. ``It’s not black and white. The Olympics are so important, an athlete will do everything possible to make the team.″