Kristin Armstrong overcame plenty of hurdles and the world’s top cyclists en route to her second gold medal. Saturday, in front of a crowd of nearly 1,000 at Boise’s Capitol Park, the Boise resident couldn’t overcome her own emotions.
“One of my fears before I competed was what would happen if I didn’t get on that podium. How would I come home?” she said. “I know how I’d come home. I’d come home with all of you welcoming me home, whether I won or whether I was fifth.”
Moments later, Armstrong rushed back to the microphone.
“I forgot to share this,” Armstrong said, holding up the gold medal she earned Aug. 1 in the women’s time trial in London. “You guys are a lot more important than this.”
The fans who turned out feel the same way about Armstrong, whose impact in the Treasure Valley is bigger than her medal count.
“I would have been here anyway without winning the medal,” said Steve Allen of Boise, clutching an autographed copy of the Idaho Statesman’s “Perfect Ending” poster featuring Armstrong kissing her young son, Lucas. “She’s a great citizen and I wanted to support her either way.”
Armstrong led a “victory ride” from the Boise Depot to Capitol Park in the shadow of the Statehouse. More than 200 cyclists followed Armstrong, who towed Lucas behind. What followed was an outpouring of Olympic love — and birthday cheers — for the city’s only gold-medal winner on her 39th birthday.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter proclaimed it “Kristin Armstrong Day” in the state. First lady Lori Otter led the singing of “Happy Birthday.” University of Idaho President Duane Nellis gave the Vandal alum a key to the Moscow campus, saying she had given new meaning to “Vandal Gold.”
“If only I were to have this when I was actually in college, we’d all be in trouble,” Armstrong said with about a dozen of her Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters in the crowd.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter presented Lucas, who turns 2 in September, with a race jersey naming him honorary mayor and held up an updated sign for the Kristin Armstrong Bikeway on Bogus Basin Road.
He also announced that the city’s scholarships for children unable to pay to play recreational sports will be called the Kristin Armstrong Youth Scholarships. The city awards 3,000 scholarships each year worth about $150,000.
“I can’t think of any better way to honor you,” said Bieter, an avid bike rider.
Armstrong cried while describing her vision for London, holding Lucas on the podium with a gold medal around her neck — and how it came true.
“That vision was for every kid in this Valley to see Lucas and his mom up there and have inspiration to go after everything you dream of going after,” she said. “Not only for the children, but also for the mothers, who think once you have a child you have to put everything aside. You don’t. It’s all about balance. You can do it the way I did it.”
Michelle Jensen of Boise brought her three children, including daughters Eve, 9, and Mae, 5. “Kristin is an inspiration and a friend and we want to support her and tell her how awesome she is and share in the excitement,” she said.
Kate Harding-Swartley of Boise and her daughter Langley, 9, waited in line for an autograph. “We were just talking about how I’ve always been impressed by what she stands for. When she says whether she got the gold or she got last place, she knows she lives in a place that would support her,” Harding-Swartley said.
Armstrong signed autographs for nearly three hours as fans lingered in the park eating her birthday cake.
“To be almost 40 years old, it shows age isn’t a factor. You can still do amazing things,” said Melanie Jordan, 49, of Boise. “There are some sports that aren’t just for children. Not everybody can go out and run a marathon, but anyone can ride a bike — not to her level.
“If you look around at the crowd, you can see that. There’s everything from 4-year-olds on bikes to people that are probably in their 60s and 70s.”
Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph