On the sweltering Sunday morning of July 29, 1984, it was my fortune to cover a piece of history.
Women's cycling made its Olympic debut with a road race in the Orange County suburbs south of Los Angeles, and the 79.2-kilometer event (a little more than 49 miles) turned into a grueling test as temperatures climbed into the 90s. Near the finish, two Americans and three Europeans still had a chance to win in a frantic, climactic sprint to the end.
In the final yards, Olympic Training Center resident Rebecca Twigg of Colorado Springs appeared on the verge of barely winning. Then, with one last thrust, Connie Carpenter-Phinney of Boulder prevailed by mere inches. That race produced America's first Olympic cycling medals since 1912 — though other U.S. cyclists would add more gold, silver and bronze in the days that followed, including a bronze by Davis Phinney, Connie's husband, in the men's team time trial.
In fact, for a while after Connie's victory, it looked as if the couple might pull off their own sweep. Davis was among the favorites in the men's road race, but another OTC-based cyclist, Alexi Grewal, built a big lead before holding off Canada's Steve Bauer at the end, with Phinney placing fifth.
For Carpenter-Phinney, at 27, it was the crowning moment of an incredible athletic career. She realized that, announcing her retirement that same day. She had crammed many successes and trailblazing moments into her life, from competing at the 1972 Winter Olympics as a 14-year-old speedskater (she's still the youngest U.S. woman Olympian) to sharing in an NCAA rowing championship while a student at California-Berkeley in 1980. She also captured the Coors Classic cycling event in 1977 and 1982, and won the 1983 world championship for individual pursuit.
You still could call her America's greatest woman cyclist ever, and you wouldn't be wrong. These days, Carpenter-Phinney runs cycling camps out of Boulder with Davis, who won 328 races (including two Tour de France stages) before Parkinson's disease prematurely ended his competitive career.
They have another huge priority in their lives now, and it will bring them here next week for the start of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Their son, Taylor Phinney, just turned 21, already is a five-time world champion and 2008 Olympian. He also was the 2010 national time trial champion, which means he'll relish the chance to compete in the Prologue here against the top three finishers from the Tour de France. At 6-foot-4 and 170 pounds, he doesn't have the kind of body frame that could translate as well into mountain-climbing, but he's a rock star in track events. Along with Tour de France champion Cadel Evans of Australia, he'll be among the top drawing cards for the Pro Cycling Challenge.
This, by the way, is far from being the first chance for cycling to dominate the Colorado Springs sports scene. In the early 1980s, during the buildup to the Los Angeles Games, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Cycling gave American athletes a better chance with construction of the 7-Eleven Velodrome in Memorial Park. That, and the chance to live rent-free at the training center, brought many top U.S. cyclists here. And in the men's track events, two of those OTC residents won 1984 gold medals, Mark Gorski in the individual sprint and Steve Hegg in the individual pursuit, along with the U.S. men taking silver in team pursuit.
Beyond the Olympics, Colorado Springs became the first American city in modern times to host the World Cycling Championships in 1986, with 800-plus entrants representing 61 nations. That turned into one of the most unforgettable sporting events ever for this region, with teams here even from the Soviet Union and East Germany (both had boycotted the 1984 Olympics). Crowds packed the velodrome, its capacity expanded with thousands of temporary bleachers, throughout a weeklong schedule capped by the road race in and around the Air Force Academy.
Now, international cycling finally returns to Colorado Springs. It's appropriate to have Americans on and around the center stage, starting with the Phinney family.
From Connie and Davis in the past to Taylor today, all they've done is make cycling history. And Taylor's a long way from being finished.