Kristin Armstrong sparked a celebration across the Treasure Valley, the state of Idaho and beyond Wednesday morning when she earned her third Olympic gold medal.
Fighting off tough conditions in the rain, Armstrong won the cycling individual time trial in Rio de Janeiro, repeating her gold-medal performances of 2008 and 2012.
Here in Idaho, co-workers, cycling friends and fans of all ages went crazy with excitement as Armstrong joined speedskater Bonnie Blair as the only American women to win gold three times in the same event.
“At our house, we threw the newspaper in the air. We had the TV on. We had streaming,” said Amy Stahl, a communications manager at St. Luke’s, where Armstrong works as the community health director.
“Watching her start — I’m getting chills — and knowing the other racers were ahead of her, the difficult conditions, windy, rainy. We’re all watching at home and we’re texting and tweeting to each other. And then it was like a collective, ‘Yahoo!’”
That feeling continued to resonate among Armstrong’s co-workers hours later inside the St. Luke’s Falcon Building in East Boise.
“She’s such a great person, so we’re rooting for her all the time,” said Katie Wegley, a senior marketing coordinator at St. Luke’s who regularly attends community events with Armstrong. “It’s so inspiring. It’s her birthday (Thursday) and to be 43 years old and have three gold medals is amazing.”
And after undergoing hip surgeries and going in and out of retirement, it’s safe to say that the third gold medal was the toughest one for Armstrong.
Not that Wegley had any doubts.
“I expected gold,” she said. “I expected great things from her.”
Not everyone did.
Team USA was harshly criticized by some in the cycling community after Armstrong was chosen to compete in Sunday’s team road race and Wednesday’s individual time trial. She hadn’t competed enough in recent international events, some said. She was too old, others said.
Ed Castledine, the site administrator for St. Luke’s Nampa and the man who hired Armstrong, said the criticism made watching Armstrong’s victory even more satisfying.
“I think knowing about … the hurdles she had to jump through to even get to the starting line were really significant,” Castledine said. “So I think a lot of us were carrying that mentality of, ‘OK, Kristin, go prove them wrong.’ And we knew she would.”
Castledine said that after working with Armstrong for six years, he has garnered a tremendous amount of respect for the cyclist — and the person.
“A lot of people don’t realize that she puts as much time and effort and energy and passion into improving other people’s lives as she does riding her bike,” Castledine said. “You can’t get a better combination than that.”
Armstrong’s personal website says she has “a vision to help make Boise become one of the healthiest communities to live in.”
Whether she won gold or not, her friends in the local cycling community were going to cheer her.
John Post, a sales and service associate at George’s Cycles in Downtown Boise, said the shop had an electric atmosphere Wednesday.
“We’ve had a few people come in and they were just walking a few inches off the floor,” Post said.
“Those of us who have worked with Kristin on a professional level, we’re just thrilled for her. You can’t quantify the difference she’s made in the community. Not just the cycling community, but the community in general. She’s an inspirational person, and we’re fortunate to have her with us, for sure.”
Despite her cycling accomplishments, and despite all the work she has done in the community, Armstrong still has the ability to surprise. She certainly surprised Kyle Sela, a physical therapist who is the director of the St. Luke’s Sports Medicine Physical Therapy Residency Program.
“Last year, when Kristin came out of retirement, she reached out to me to help her with strength training,” Sela said. “It’s something she hadn’t really done in the past to prepare for her previous Olympic Games. And that’s amazing. She was a two-time gold medalist without ever really doing any strength training. It’s really amazing.”
Sela quickly learned about Armstrong’s competitive nature.
“We might find a minor weakness that she didn’t even know she had and it would just fuel her,” he said. “She’s literally the best in the world at what she does, but we were still able to find things that might make her better. ...
“That would just take her to a whole new level. She’d come in the next day and say, ‘Look what I can do now!’ ”
Idahoans across the state watched in wonder Wednesday morning as Armstrong cemented her spot as an American cycling legend.
Armstrong graduated from the University of Idaho in 1995, and her gold medal win certainly created a buzz on the Moscow campus, according to Kathy Barnard, the executive director of alumni relations.
“Lots of people on campus saw what happened first thing this morning,” Barnard said. “And, actually, the reaction is way beyond Idaho. Vandals all over the planet are weighing in on social media and cheering for her and celebrating, wherever they are.”