Richard J. Cunningham

We are nearing the summer Olympic games and our hopes for a medal rest once again on our female athletes. Why this country’s female cyclists are the dominant force in pro mountain bike racing is an unsolved mystery. Alison Dunlap, Ruthie and Ann Trombley all could score big in Australia if the stars line up and they are feeling saucy. Is there another nation that has three contenders for Olympic gold? Unfortunately, the reverse is true for mountain bike pros of the opposite sex.

If I had to bet my entire fortune on an Olympic hopeful, it wouldn’t be a man this year–nor any year in the foreseeable future. I love Tinker and Travis with all my heart. Bless their souls, they have surely earned the right to defend our honor in Sidney, but a lot will have to go down before Tinker or Travis show up on a Wheaties box in 2001.

Anything can happen at the Olympics. A new drug test could eliminate half the field. A dense fog may envelope the course, causing the entire Euro contingent to follow little Mig off the mountain bike course and onto the Biathlon circuit. And there is always the outside chance that a dark horse from the U.S. could pull off a stunning victory. After all, that’s the way it seems to work in this country–at least with our men.

All of our superstars seem to come out of nowhere, and during our darkest hour. Greg Lemond, Lance Armstrong, Ned Overend, John Tomac, Joe Murray, and Tinker Juarez came from relative obscurity to world domination. It is ingrained within the mythology of the United States that, given the opportunity, with luck and hard work, the common man can pull himself up to superstar status against all odds.

I call it the Superman Myth. We seem perfectly content with a cycling federation that churns out mediocre athletes, as long as there is at least one naturally gifted hero available that we can all rally behind when the big races come along. The mortal flaw in our myth occurs when our aging Supermen can no longer defeat the entire world singlehandedly and we find ourselves without worthy successors. Limp-wristed and drastically outnumbered, we try to hold back the technically superior European nations–while we wait for another superstar to magically appear within our midst.

So far, that savior has not appeared. Maybe we should invest in a different mythology. Perhaps we should send our best junior men to Australia–we have a couple of world champions–and invest in the future by giving these athletes the experience of representing an entire nation in front of millions of television viewers. It would be a huge disappointment for Tinker and Travis, and perhaps unthinkable, considering the honor that this pair have bestowed upon the Stars and Bars.

Try to place your emotions aside and consider this: It would be a storybook finish if Matt Kelly or Walker Ferguson broke the top ten in Sydney. Every young racer who was glued to the tube that day would know that he or she could have a shot at the gold in four years. If our present candidates, squeezed out a tenth place finish, would it hold as much promise for our future athletes?


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