By Tyler Hamilton, Phonak Hear ing Systems Pro Cycling Team
GIRONA SPAIN It was a little bit sad to see them extinguishing the flame in the Olympic Stadium in Athens last night. My wife and I watched the closing ceremonies on television from Spain. It seemed like weeks since we had been in Athens.
I have always been a fan of the Olympic Games, ever since I was a kid. It’s a little like watching the Tour de France in the summer time, I guess. You get into a routine of checking in every day and get sort of addicted to the drama of it all.
I have always found myself watching the sports that seem to take a four-year hiatus from being covered, like diving, kayaking and distance running. I guess I feel a kinship with other non-mainstream athletes. It’s amazing how fired up you can become rooting for someone you’ve never met or heard of before.
But then, that’s the real beauty of the Olympics. Sportsmanship and passion are often at the forefront of every athlete’s performance. And it’s usually just as much fun to root for the guys at the bottom of the standings as it is for the guys on top.
I was the first alternate on the U.S. Cycling team for the Atlanta Games so I never made it there. I did manage to make the Sydney Games, however. At the time, it felt like a dream come true, especially traveling all the way down to Australia. The city was fired up and the people were friendly and more than happy to host the entire world as their guests.
The Olympic Village was a good distance from the road cycling venues so our team opted to stay in hotels instead. This way we could train on the courses every day and spare ourselves long commutes in the process. In the end, although we were at the Olympics, it felt like we were at just another race. We missed out on the Opening and Closing ceremonies and in the process, the Olympic experience as well.
But in 2004 we arrived early and checked into the Olympic Village, which will be converted to a sleek new suburb of Athens now that the Games are over. The area is a sea of pastel colored apartment buildings that are all architecturally similar. Future inhabitants will definitely have to work individualizing their gardens and front gates or it will be tough to find home base after a night out with the boys.
The entire U.S. Cycling Team stayed in one apartment building. It felt a little like my old college days… well, except for the security guards posted upstairs and on the roof. The Americans were under a watchful eye and were asked to refrain from hanging flags, banners or anything American looking from our balconies, windows or doorways. Of course, in the end, that made the American compound stand out all the more – given that every other apartment building in the complex had been fully decorated in something representing their respective national spirit.
Security in and out of the village was tight. Cab drivers couldn’t even figure out where the entrance to the place was – it was so well disguised and tucked away. The best part about being out there was the cafeteria. Seeing that many top athletes – in various shapes and sizes – milling around was a sight in itself. I called my wife one night and remarked that it was amazing how many ways the human body could be perfected. It was like looking at a thousand different kinds of art all at once.
There were two big deals going on in the caf’. The first of which was a McDonalds. You could tell who was done competing by what they carried on their trays. And it seemed by my observation that the Big Mac is universal food.
The other big deal was pin trading. Everyone would be walking around in sweat suits advertising their nationality so it was easy to find the athletes whose pin you needed. Levi Leipheimer, who is normally pretty reserved, became a pin-trading maniac. I think he had the most of anyone in our group. The ribbon on his credential probably weighed 10 kilo’s by the time he flew home; he had so many pins stuck through it.
I was a bit nervous about the road race because the streets were slippery and the temperatures were kill-bacteria-in-the-oven hot. Spectators looked like they were suffering – and that was before the start. So I knew we were in for a long day.
My goal was to test the legs a little after being away from racing for so long, and see if I could manage to slip into the winning break away. Although the U.S. team did not get a medal as we were hoping, it was a successful day in my book considering the way I felt. I wanted to save as many matches as possible for the time trial. Hats off to race veterans Bettini and Merckx, two guys I was happy to see go home with medals.
The day after the road race we left the Olympic Village, headed south for the coast and checked into a hotel near the start/finish line of the time trial. The weather had cooled considerably in the days following the road race so we were able to do a lot of good training and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere outside of the city.
August 18th, is a day I will never forget. I’ve been an athlete all my life and always dreamed of being an Olympic Champion, but I don’t know if I ever truly thought I’d actually get there. I woke up the morning after the race, jumped out of bed and bolted over to my suitcase to see if the medal was really there. My wife just laughed, shook her head and said, – “no, I don’t believe it either.”
Needless to say, it took a couple of days to sink in.
It was one of the biggest days of my career and one I was happy to share and celebrate with Dede Demet-Barry and Bobby Julich. Three Americans on the podium in one afternoon was truly exceptional and an experience I will never forget.
We were able to stay in Athens for a couple of days after the race to relax and enjoy being in Greece. It was the first time my wife and I had ever been there. We returned home shortly afterward, though. I need to start gearing up for the Vuelta, which is a bit of an unplanned extension to my season, but we’ll see how it goes. I don’t know how many more grand tours I’ll get to ride in my career so now seems like a good time to fit one in.
Thanks for reading.
For an extended version of “Tyler Tunes” and more detail about the Olympic time trial see the next issue of VeloNews.
Tyler Hamilton, a member of the Phonak Hearing systems professional cycling team, is a regular contributor to VeloNews and VeloNews.com. In addition to a thriving cycling career, Hamilton is also the founder of The TylerHamilton Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to provide opportunityand access for individuals affected by multiple sclerosis and aspiringyoung athletes with a passion for cycling.The Tyler Hamilton Foundation is the heart of professional cyclistTyler Hamilton. The Tyler Hamilton Foundation is dedicated to individualsdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis so that they may maintain a high qualityof life while dealing with the daily complications of this disease andto MS Research that is critical to finding a cure.The Tyler Hamilton Foundation is dedicated to paving the road foraspiring young cyclists who do not have the opportunities that were providedto Tyler as he began his career.