Olds’ seventh place is best Olympic women’s road race finish by American in 20 years

Shelley Olds (center, in red, white and blue) working in the breakaway during the women’s road race. Photo credit-Casey Gibson for USA Cycling

Shelley Olds (center, in red, white and blue) working in the breakaway during the women’s road race. Photo credit-Casey Gibson for USA Cycling

Former Olympic cyclist Jeanne Golay placed sixth in Barcelona at the 1992 Olympics.

With her seventh-place women's cycling road race finish at the 2012 Olympic Games on Sunday, Shelley Olds posted the best result for an American woman in the Olympic road race since 1992. Olds, who crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 35 minutes and 56 seconds, also was the top finisher among the four U.S. Women's Cycling team members who competed in the 89-mile race through the streets of London.

Olds, 31, a 2003 graduate of Roanoke College, joined 66 other women on the rain-plagued race. With 22.3 miles left, Olds was in good medal contention. She found herself in a breakaway - a small group of riders leading the pack - when she punctured a tire and fell back in the race.

"I'm really devastated because I believe I definitely could have medaled," Olds told the Associated Press. "That was the winning move and I was in it. Seventh place, I guess I can be sort of happy with that, but when you're that close to a medal and then you're in seventh, then it's different."

The gold medal went to top-ranked Marianne Vos of Holland who had a time of 3:35:29. Silver went to Britain's Lizzie Armitstead (3:35:29) and bronze to Olga Zabelinskaya (3:35:31), of Russia.

News of Olds' "dastardly luck," as the Associated Press called it, has received much national and international media coverage. But her seventh-place finish should be congratulated, said Dr. Robert Jenkins, Roanoke College professor emeritus in biology and a fan of bicycle road racing.

"I watch nearly every race viewable on TV, including every stage of the Tour de France," Jenkins wrote in an email Monday. "I've seen so many flats, crashes, departures from races...but being [an] RC alum [Class of 1961], the flat incurred by [Olds] was by far the saddest to me. Surely she had a plan and perfectly executed it - getting into the winning breakaway - and was headed for a medal."

"A Top 10 finish still is terrific. Congrats to Shelley!"

Olds, of Gilroy, Calif., traveled to the Summer Olympic Games from Livigno, in the Italian Alps, in preparation for races and for the Olympics. In July, she competed in a hard nine-day stage race in Italy, the Giro Donne, in which she won stage 6, appropriately on the Fourth of July. After the race, she returned to Girona, Spain which has been her temporary home base, to complete and fine-tune her training for the Olympics.

Post-Olympics, Olds will return to Girona to spend time with her parents, who traveled to London to cheer her on. Following that short break, she'll race in three more World Cup events, then begin preparing for the World Championships, scheduled for September in the Netherlands.

Olds is a relative newcomer to cycling, taking up the sport just five years ago. At Roanoke, she served as captain of the Women's Soccer Team for two consecutive years. She was named ODAC Player of the Year, All-State, All-Region, and was nominated as an All-American. Her introduction to cycling came in 2005, while riding on the back of a tandem mountain bike.

Olds has become one of the highest-ranked women's cyclists in the world. Initially, she competed in track cycling but this year realized her dream of competing in the Olympic Games in road cycling. She has been training and preparing for this top level of competition in the past year, competing in a full schedule of road races in New Zealand, Italy, Belgium, Holland and China. Her win at the Tour of Chongming Island World Cup #5 in China helped secure her nomination to the Olympic team.

Olds is a three-time national champion in two disciplines of cycling - road and track.  In 2010, she won the Pan American Road Championships, the final stage at the Women's Giro D'Italia, and the Elite Criterium U.S. National Championships.

Released: July 30, 2012
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