Boise cyclist Kristin Armstrong’s stressful week started waiting for the results of an arbitration hearing held for Carmen Small, a fellow American cyclist who believed she was unfairly left off USA Cycling’s 21-member team for next month’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
After a 13-hour hearing ended late Tuesday night, the arbitrator upheld USA Cycling’s qualification criteria, sealing Armstrong’s place in her fourth Olympic Games.
“After about 10 days of stressing out completely, getting that final word, it was about a 24- to 36-hour period after that where I was just beat,” Armstrong said. “I was exhausted because of all the effort we put into it. But now I need to focus on the task at hand, which is a third gold medal in Rio.”
Saturday ushered in a very different kind of feeling for Armstrong.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist in the women’s time trial participated in her annual Kids’ Ride as part of the 30th annual Twilight Criterium in Downtown Boise. Later in the evening, she finished sixth in the women’s pro race.
“The community of Boise has always been 100 percent behind me. It doesn’t matter when I’ve left the sport, when I’ve come back to the sport, when I’m with the kids, when I’m racing the Twilight, when I’m not racing the Twilight,” Armstrong said. “I feel like the community always comes out in full force.”
Since she made her first Olympic appearance in Athens in 2004, Armstrong committed to sharing her time with the same Idahoans who cheered her on to time trial wins in 2008 at Beijing and 2012 at London.
Those were the same fans wearing green #TeamKristin shirts around Capitol Park. They’re the same ones who will faithfully watch Aug. 7, when she competes in the Olympic road race; and again Aug. 10, when she attempts to win a third straight gold in the time trial.
“The support of the community is tremendous as far as giving me energy and feeling,” Armstrong said. “You know, believing in not only myself, but having people believe in me. That’s really powerful.”
Saturday afternoon, Armstrong rode the Twilight course alongside children ages 3-10 and signed autographs before and after the ride, waiting until the last family in line had a chance to meet the Idaho hero face-to-face and have their memorabilia signed.
Armstrong talked with each and every person, even posing for photos and expertly coaxing conversation out of shy little ones.
Armstrong’s 5-year-old son, Lucas, and husband, Joe Savola, remained nearby, watching beneath the shade of a large pine tree as she signed autographs for nearly three hours in total.
Lucas, who was 2 when Armstrong won in London, rode next to his mom during the 5-to-6-year-olds’ kids’ ride. Lucas and Savola will accompany Armstrong to Rio next month.
“Lucas is 5 years old now — he’ll be 6 in September — and so yeah, he gets it,” Armstrong said. “He knows definitely what medals are because of youth sports. He knows what racing bikes is because of the Twilight Kids’ Ride, and he’s really excited about going to Rio and seeing, what he would say, ‘mama’ race her bike.”
Armstrong leaves July 31 for Rio. Joe and Lucas will follow later that week.
“People are asking me, ‘Are you worried? What are you thinking about the mosquitoes and the Zika virus?’ ” Armstrong said. “As an athlete, you have to really trust the federation to advise you on how to take precautions. If I get wrapped up into what’s going to happen, it can really take away from my training and focus.”
Armstrong ended a nearly three-year retirement in April 2015, and she is set to become the oldest American female Olympic cyclist in history. She turns 43 on Aug. 11, the day after the time trial.
“A lot of times people ask me what made me come out of retirement for the second time, and sometimes I ask myself the same question,” Armstrong said. “From the beginning, even before I announced I was coming out, I tried to come up with a really cool answer, like, ‘This is going to be good. How about this?’
“And I couldn’t come up with that answer. At the end of the day, it always came back down to because I can.”
What better way to celebrate her 43rd birthday than with another gold medal around her neck?
Because she can.
Armstrong in Rio
- Aug. 7: Women’s road race, 10:30 a.m. MT
- Aug. 10: Women’s time trial, 6:30 a.m. MT