From a genocide survivor to tributes to Connie Carpenter, here are our top five highs from the 2012 London mountain bike Olympics
5. High: The throwback U.S. Olympic kits
The United States picked simple and classic design for the team Olympic kits and the choice was met with overwhelmingly positive response.
The uniforms closely resemble those worn in Los Angeles in 1984 by Connie Carpenter and Alexi Grewal.
“The kits look amazing,” said 2012 U.S. Mountain Bike Olympic Team member Sam Schultz. “I’m super fired up for them. I like the sort of retro look. It’s clean. Hopefully we can ride as well as those kits look.”
The design is a simple red stripe down the middle with a white stripe on either side and stars along those white stripes, with the same motif along the leg cuffs.
USA is written in red in a classic font, outlined in white.
The result was simple, unmistakably American graphics that could be spotted from anywhere on the course and a great way to acknowledge the roots of Olympic cycling.
4. High: The Hadleigh Farm course
There was no shortage of criticism for the Hadleigh Farm race course after last year’s test event. Critics felt like the race organizers had picked the flattest part of the country for the Olympic mountain bike race and then trucked in rocks in a few places on the unwooded hillside and left the rest like flat jeep roads.
That response wasn’t far off from the truth, but The Hadleigh Farm course didn’t disappoint. It was ideally set up for viewing and led to dramatic races.
The 20,000 spectators that attended both days of the sold-out races got good views of long stretches of the course and were able to spread out around the venue.
The course designers trucked in 3,500 tons of crushed stone to build the course and 500 tons of rock to create technical features.
While most of the course lacked technical challenge, the features including Snake Hill, The Rock Garden and Deane’s Drop were significant, and where there were a choice of lines the “A” line was substantially faster than the more modest line, which made for more exciting racing.
With frequent, punchy climbs, it was physically taxing, as well. “There are other courses that are more demanding but physically it’s going to be one of the hardest races I’ve ever done,” Catharine Pendrel told Singletrack.com before the race.
Plus, the wide sections without a strong technical element led to great group racing in both races.
While it may not have resembled a standard World Cup course, the Hadleigh Farm course was challenging physically, mentally and, in places, technically, and it made for great watching both live and on TV.
3. High: The highest ever Olympic result for both U.S. men
With Todd Wells finishing 10th and U.S. cross-country champion Sam Schultz finishing 15th, the 2012 team representing the United States earned their stars and stripes in London.
Wells had already been tied with David “Tinker” Juarez for the nation’s highest Olympic result from his 19th place in the 2004 Athens games, and after a hard season that got off on the wrong foot, it was encouraging to see Wells on form.
Schultz was delighted with both his result and the experience of his first Olympic games.
“Everyone was super fired up, you could definitely tell. It was a different vibe on the start line than a normal World Cup, which is always super tense. This was definitely up a level, which is really cool.”
There is certainly lots more energy where that came from, and we can expect to see lots more from the young rookie.
2. High: Adrien Niyonshuti proudly represents Rwanda
As someone who lost six siblings in the Rwandan genocide, Adrien Niyonshuti is no stranger to struggle.
His Olympic bid was full of hope and inspiration, though, as he fought to change the view of his recovering nation in the international consciousness.
“The first thing people think of at the moment is the genocide, but that was 18 years ago. I want people to concentrate on the positive aspects of my country.”
He did not meet his goal of finishing in the top 20, but the 39th-place finisher was met with audience enthusiasm that rivaled the applause for some of the top finishers as he crossed the finish line.
Clearly, he accomplished his goal to be a positive ambassador for Rwanda.
1: High: Georgia’s bronze
The U.S. crowd was passionately devoted to Georgia Gould going into the Olympic race, not just because she was among the most likely women to medal, but because it was about time that her luck turned around in international racing.
In the races leading up to the Olympics, Gould proved that she was the most fit competitor, and that she was consistent, but twice in a row ill-timed mishaps led to her losing what would have been her first World Cup wins in the final minutes of the races.
The Olympic mountain bike race was her chance to make up for those disappointments and prove that she should be counted among the best competitors in the world. A gold for Gould seemed likely if the wind blew her way on the day.
After witnessing the domestic races, American fans’ hearts were fragile, and there was no doubt in people’s minds that Gould had earned an Olympic result.
The fairytale ending would have been if Gould had won her first major international race at the London Olympics, but her delight was obvious after she won her bronze, as was the elation of her fans.
“It’s hugely emotional,” she said after the race. “You put so much work into it. It is just another race, but at the same time, it’s not another race. It’s a race everyone is shooting for and everyone is peaking for. You just hope that the preparation that you’ve done is enough to give you what it takes on the day. I’m just glad I could not just have the opportunity to represent my country, but to bring home a medal, too.”
Bronze was certainly not a concession prize for the fan favorite.
Also check out our picks for the Five lows from the 2012 mountain bike Olympics
Emily spent her infancy in the back of a women’s team van while the team built wheels around her. She spent part of her pre-teen years in Europe following the major European mountain, road and gravity races and touring cycling product factories. College was the first time she lived in a home without a frame building shop in her garage or basement. Her favorite style of riding is getting lost in singletrack trail networks and taking her time finding her way back.