Herstory: Female Olympic winners past to present – Part 1

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We are just two weeks away from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and the excitement is building. Federations around the globe have submitted their final rosters to the Olympic Committee and athletes everywhere are spending the coming weeks dotting i’s and crossing t’s for this pinnacle event of our sport.

We’ll be talking about today’s Olympians a lot in the coming weeks but before we do, let’s pedal backwards in history and take a look at the winners of the past Olympic Games.

Women’s Cycling at the Summer Olympic Games:

The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles was the first time women competed in an Olympic cycling event.
The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles was the first time women competed in an Olympic cycling event.

While men’s bike racing has been a part of the Olympic Games since the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, women’s cycling events weren’t added until 1984.

The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, USA, saw the addition of single women’s event, the road race, won by American Connie Carpenter.

Women’s track racing events were added in 1988, and the women’s individual time trial was added only as recently as 1996.

Fun fact: the 2012 Summer Olympics in London marked the first Games with an equal number of cycling events for men and women.

Past Winners: 1984 – 1996

1984: Connie Carpenter (USA)

The first woman to ever win an Olympic cycling event, Connie Carpenter’s trip to the 1984 Olympic Games wasn’t her first. She’d been an Olympic speedskater who attended the 1972 Olympics as a mere 14-year-old, and finished seventh in the 1,500 meter event.

She later would become a national champion rower before switching her attention to cycling. As a cyclist she has won 12 US national championship titles, four world championship medals –in both road and track cycling – and, of course, the Olympic gold medal.

The 1984 race ended in a sprint finish in which Carpenter outsprinted fellow American Rebecca Twigg.

Carpenter is married to fellow Olympic medalist and retired professional cyclist Davis Phinney, with whom she has two children, including professional cyclist and Olympian Taylor Phinney.

1988: Monique Knol (Netherlands)

Monique Knol’s victory at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea was a close one. After an 82-kilometre Tongillo road course, the race came down to a sprint finish in which the 24-year-old Dutch woman edged out West Germany’s Jutta Niehaus and the USSR’s Laima Zilporyte for the win.

She would return to the Olympics and the podium four years later, when she won the bronze medal at the Olympic road race in Barcelona, Spain.

1988 was a breakthrough season for Knol, who had been relatively unknown until she won the Dutch national road race championships. When she then continued on to win the Olympic gold medal, it was with some surprise. Her career took off and she would go on to win 12 stages at the Tour Féminin (the women’s equivalent to the Tour de France), the Swedish Tjejtrampet road race four times, and together with her Dutch teammates she claimed the team time trial world title at the win at the 1992 UCI World Championships in Japan two years later before returning to the Olympics in 1992.

She retired in 1996, made a small comeback in 2002 and today partakes in dressage.

1992: Kathy Watt (Australia)

The daughter of a marathon runner, Kathryn Watt was a junior national champion runner before an injury introduced her to cycling.

An excellent time trialist, Watt combined track and road racing throughout her career with prolific results, winning 24 national championships, four gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, a bronze medal at the UCI world championships and two Olympic medals.

Her breakout season came in 1990, when the then 26-year-old Australian won her first gold Commonwealth Games medal in the road race as well as a bronze medal in the individual pursuit. That same year she also finished third at the women’s Giro d’Italia.

The 1992 Olympic year saw her win the Australian national road race and two medals at the Barcelona Olympics: gold in the road race and silver in the 3k individual pursuit.

Watt enjoyed many more successes in the lead-up to the 1996 Olympics –including another Giro d’Italia podium, a national title and a bronze medal in the time trial at the 1995 UCI World Championships –but was initially left off the Australian Olympic roster. She successfully appealed and raced the individual pursuit at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA, where she didn’t make it past the quarter finals.

In 2000, Watt again was left of the Olympic roster but was unsuccessful in her appeal to the Court of Arbitration.

She retired after 2000 but came back three years later in an attempt to qualify for the 2004 Olympics. She was unsuccessful in her attempt but pressed on with a second comeback ahead of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. She succeeded and, at age 42, won the silver medal in the time trial. That same year she also won the time trial in the Australian Open Road Championship time trial and got second in the road race. In 2008, at age 44, she retired for Elite level road racing for good.

1996: Jeannie Longo (France)

For a long time, Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli was considered the greatest female cyclist of all time. After a junior career as a downhill skier, Longo started cycling. Just months after her first race, she claimed the French national road race title and with it, kicked of one of the winningest careers in cycling history.

Before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Longo had already enjoyed a long and successful career, winning 10 World Championships titles –5 in the road race, 1 in the individual time trial and an additional 4 on the track (3K pursuit and points race).

At the age of 37, Longo went into the 1996 Olympics with an incredible amount of experience. She had participated in every women’s Olympic road cycling event to date, and while she had come in second in the 1992 Olympic road race in Barcelona, the gold medal still eluded her.

The Atlanta road race was filled with crashes as a mid-race downpour caused many racers to slip and fall, but Longo-Ciprelli stayed out of trouble and won in dominating fashion, crossing the line solo, well ahead of her competitors.

Longo also took home a silver medal in the time trial, but this was not the end of her Olympic career.

Age being no factor for Longo, she continued on to win the bronze medal in the time trial at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games at the age of 41. She was again present in 2004 where she finished 10th in the road race. In 2008, at the age of 49, Longo won her 55th French Championship title and qualified for the Beijing Games, her seventh Olympic Games where she finished 24th in the road race and 4th in the time trial, just two seconds short of the bronze medal.

In 2011, at age 52, Longo won her 59th national title, in the individual time trial.

It should be noted that Longo’s incredible career has been tainted with various doping scandals. She tested positive ephedrine in 1987 and served a one-month ban. Later in her career, Longo missed several doping tests but was cleared due to a technicality. Meanwhile, her husband Patrice Ciprelli has been faced with several charges for importing EPO.

Longo, however, continues to be active in the sport today, finishing 13 at the France national time trial championships just last month.

Tune in next week for Part 2, 2000 – 2012.

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