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Dotsie Bausch and her fellow U.S. women’s team pursuit riders didn’t stand much chance in Saturday’s gold-medal race against the British squad, which is clearly the best in the world. But just reaching the final was a minor upset, and that Bausch later stood on an Olympic podium with a silver medal around her neck was nothing less than astonishing.
When she was in her early 20s, Bausch was so anorexic and bulimic that her 5-foot-9 body wasted away to a skeletal 90 pounds. The former runway model became so depressed that she attempted to commit suicide by running across the interstate near her home in Philadelphia.
She found life in cycling though, and her reborn body recovered to take her to the Olympics at age 39. And Saturday, she not only won a silver medal, she did so with Paul McCartney later joining the sellout velodrome crowd as it sang “Hey Jude.’’
“I don’t think the reflection has started yet,’’ Bausch said. “This is completely surreal. I keep waiting for someone to pinch me.’’
The U.S. pursuit team finished a very disappointing fifth at the world championships this spring, a result that prompted them to change their strategy. Although the pursuit team lives all across the country, they agreed to move to Spain to train in Majorca together for two months to develop cohesion. “We knew we had to do something,’’ Sarah Hammer said.
Reaching the final required a tremendous comeback against Australia in the classifying round, when the Americans trailed by more than a second early in the race. Hammer, however, buried her head and powered her teammates to clip the Australians at the end. The finish was so close Bausch said she didn’t know who won until she heard random fans in the crowd congratulating her on the win.
“We knew it was tight,’’ Hammer said. “Our strategy was to keep it within range and then launch it at the end. And we did that. We knew it would be a race to the finish.’’
“Sarah brought it home like no other,’’ Bausch said. “Not all these teams got to pack a Sarah Hammer in their luggage for the Olympics. She was phenomenal.’’
There was nothing Hammer could do to bring the U.S. back against Britain, which broke the world record in each of its three races. Steadily extending its lead with each lap of the race, Britain won the gold in 3:14.051, more than five seconds faster than the Americans.
“To beat them was going to take them crashing, they were in another league,’’ Bausch said, adding they were delighted with the silver and content to let the next generation of U.S. riders try to knock off the Brits.
Bausch often speaks publicly about eating disorders and what the body can do if you treat it right. Asked Saturday what the lesson from her medal is, she replied, “Just hope and faith. Those are the two things to always hang on to. If you keep hoping and having faith in God, it’s just limitless.’’