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Gold Digger: With Pan American gold, Irmiger's looking to the Olympics

"I definitely aim for a medal. Preferably gold. Gold's cool."

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Heather Irmiger
Heather Irmiger in Boulder this week. Photo: Emily Zinn

BOULDER, Colo. (ST) — Standing atop the podium of the 2011 Pan American Games on October 15, Heather Irmiger didn’t realize that her cross country gold was the first gold awarded in the games. The realization made the gold taste even sweeter when she bit into her medal. After winning, Irmiger tweeted, “turns out I LOVE GOLLLLDDDDD!”

The course in Tapalpa, Mexico, played to her strengths and she delighted in the throngs of excited fans and the care put into the course.

“They were really good hosts, and it added to the excitement of wining the event,” said the 2009 cross country national champion. “When something feels pieced together it doesn’t feel as cool to win it, but it felt very pro. And feeling pro is so pro.”

Irmiger was so impressed with the venue, she said it reminded her of visiting her husband, 10-time national champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, in the Athens Olympic Village.

The next time Irmiger is in an Olympic village she hopes it won’t be to visit her husband, but to come home with a pendant of precious medal. “I like the feel of that thing hanging around my neck,” she joked. Now her focus is on reliving that feeling in London in 2012.

“Making the Olympic team is only half of the goal,” she said. “I definitely aim for a medal. Preferably gold. Gold’s cool, and I don’t think it’s beyond me.”

She has no delusions that getting to London in the first place will be an easy road, though. Irmiger is confident that there is a solid pool of five American female candidates equally qualified for the two available spots on the US Olympic team and will have to fight her hardest to qualify.

Nonetheless, Irmiger credits the strength of her peers and the stiff competition between the American women for playing a substantial role in her success.

“We’re one of the best countries in the world because we all just keep punching each other in the stomach and making each other faster,” she said, complementing the four women she considers her greatest rivals for the Olympic spots.

Irmiger delights in seeing young women gaining confidence in themselves by getting out on knobby tires.
Opportunities to do that on a large scale will be abundant now that she has been elected to the mountain bike committee for the USA Cycling Board as a female representative.

While Irmiger would love to play a role in inspiring more female riders to duke it out in the dirt, her honest goal is to see the sport expand as a whole.

Fans and critics have all taken notice of Irmiger’s extracurricular activities. Her pinup-girl alter ego draws particularly passionate attention. Acting as a role model for women coming up on the cross country scene is a hobby Irmiger hopes to nurture in the future. Showing a little leg is neither a statement promoting nor discrediting that goal.

Critics of her flesh to clothing ratio in the 2011 Cyclepassion calendar are abundant, but Irmiger clearly is not fazed by judgmental bloggers.

She won’t argue that the Cyclepassion calendar was a way of promoting the belief that women can get dirty and still be beautiful and feminine, but fans who support mountain bikers in lacey panties may be surprised to learn the honest driving force behind her decision to pose in the shoot.

“Just because I’m a mountain biker and have a really gnarly scar on my thigh from where I crashed a month ago doesn’t mean I can’t show a little skin and feel beautiful, but honestly I did it for the experience,” said Irmiger.

“Everything I do is for the experience. I just wanted to know what it’s like to be in a skimpy photo shoot. How many people are 50 and get to say that they did something like that?”

After experiencing hours of sore hamstrings from patiently holding poses, Irmiger decided as she left the photo shoot at 2am that being a model is neither easy nor all that much fun.

“Cycling has brought me so many non-cycling opportunities,” she gushed, citing also acting in a commercial and riding alongside the president. “If there’s any message to females and anyone else out there that I would want to convey with something like the Cyclepassion calendar it would be to think outside the box. Just have a little fun. Spice it up.”

When she won the 2009 Single Speed World Championships, Irmiger got a commemorative tattoo. She doesn’t plan to permanently ink the Olympic rings anywhere on her body should she find herself on the top of the podium in London, though.

If she wins, she plans to celebrate the same way she celebrates all of her career accomplishments, by going out and shaking her “thang.”

Pan Am Games Photo Gallery on