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Friday, August 27, 2004
Second-ranked American finishes ninth

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Mary McConneloug doesn't need much to be happy.

She and her boyfriend spend a few months each year in Chilmark, Mass., staying in a 10-by-10-foot cabin that has electricity but no running water. When traveling, they spend the nights sleeping in their van and cook most of their meals along the roadside.

So is finishing ninth at her first Olympics good enough?

"Hell, yeah! Inner gold," McConneloug said.

When racing against Norway's Gunn-Rita Dahle, "inner gold" is the best any mountain biker can hope for.

Dahle added an Olympic gold medal to her rapidly growing list of accomplishments Friday, dominating the women's mountain bike field for her 15th consecutive win in an internationally sanctioned race. Since May 2003, Dahle -- whose time was 1 hour, 56 minutes, 51 seconds -- has won 28 of 32 races she's entered.

Canada's Marie-Helene Premont won the silver in 1:57:50, and reigning world champion Sabine Spitz of Germany got the bronze in 1:59:21.

"Even though I've been winning a lot this year, this is a great moment. I can't describe what it means," Dahle said. "The next minutes, the next hours, the next days will describe what Olympic gold means to me."

Dahle's winning margin should have been ever larger; she lost about 90 seconds midway through the race because of a problem with her bike. She hopped off, fixed it and moved on.

"A little technical problem during the race is pretty much normal, although it made it a little kind of extra entertaining," she said.

McConneloug's day was relatively problem-free, unlike her trip to Athens.

She got her Olympic spot only after an arbitrator, New York attorney David W. Rivkin, ruled that USA Cycling failed to follow its own selection criteria when naming Sue Haywood of Davis, W.Va., to the Olympic team instead of McConneloug. USA Cycling said Haywood had 1,489 points; McConneloug 1,488.

Haywood's total included 15 points from a race in Idaho, a result never forwarded to the International Cycling Union -- the sport's governing body and official keeper of rankings. USA Cycling's criteria was to be based on the official ranking, and without the Idaho race McConneloug was 14 points ahead.

"USA Cycling should have announced that they were going to amend the official rules. ... To do it after the fact, after the points race had closed, wasn't right," said Rivkin, who introduced himself to McConneloug after the race.

McConneloug, ranked No. 2 behind Dahle, started on the first row but dropped back to 15th after one lap and never made it into medal contention.

Her plan was to start conservatively and slowly catch up. She managed to pass a handful of riders, yet finished in 2:06:12 -- 9:21 behind Dahle and 6:51 behind Spitz, the bronze winner.

"I just kind of flubbed the first three minutes," McConneloug said. "It was hard. ... I did what I could."

Dahle's gold was her country's first in cycling since 1972. She grabbed a Norwegian flag while nearing the finish, coasting across the line as it unfurled behind her.

"I have yet to figure out what makes her so good," McConneloug said. "I watch her and physically, she's just so strong. ... She's very hard and very serious about this. I aspire to her status one day."