Relatives of gold-medal cyclist Kristin Armstrong share their experiences at the sidelines
By Lindsey Gelwicks | BSU at the Games
As the last notes of the U.S. national anthem echoed across Hampton Court Palace, 2-year-old Lucas Salvola was finally allowed to join his mother, Kristin Armstrong, on the podium. Smiles spread across both their faces as Armstrong scooped the toddler up into her arms and held the gold medal around her neck.
“I think it brought a tear to all our eyes,” Armstrong’s sister-in-law Marge Wilson said. “Just to see her on the podium and hear the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’”
For the group of 12 sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and significant others, seeing Armstrong win her second time trial (the first was at Beijing in 2008) was the highlight of their trip to the London Olympic Games.
The family finally got a chance to relax Thursday morning as it sat in the lobby of the London Hilton Metropole reflecting on the last few days and making plans for the rest of its trip.
“It was surreal,” Marge said. “[My husband] Brady always knew she’d win. You just want it so bad.”
Between two races, a minor crash and a gold medal, the days leading up to Armstrong’s second gold medal were full of both excitement and anxiety for the Wilson clan, related to Armstrong through her husband, Joe Salvola.
Anxiety at the sidelines
July 28 marked the family’s first day in London, but its true purpose for being there didn’t come until the next day.
Joined by Lucas, the Wilsons stood by the 500-meter mark near Buckingham Palace late Sunday morning awaiting the start of the women’s cycling road race.
The family didn’t have any signs or American flags to hang over the railing lining the course (“We’re lamenting that fact,” said Armstrong’s nephew Matt Wilson), but it did bring the love and family support.
Although the group was there to cheer Armstrong on, her brother-in-law Brady Wilson knew it wasn’t her event. Amidst gasps from his family, he said he doubted she would win the race.
“She’s not much of a sprinter,” he said, defending himself.
The nerves the family felt as the race drew closer weren’t just because it was about to watch Armstrong compete, though. About 30 minutes before the race, the group became anxious as umbrellas popped up along the course to shield the crowd from the rain.
Armstrong had broken her collarbone on a wet track in a race in her hometown of Boise, Idaho, three months earlier, and none of them wanted her slipping again. But two-thirds of the way into the corner, Armstrong was involved in a minor crash at the bottom of Box Hill, falling on the same shoulder she broke in May.
“We all got sick to our stomachs,” Marge said.
It’s crashes like these that make it rough knowing an Olympic athlete at times. According to Marge, Armstrong’s mother can’t even watch her race—live or on TV.
Armstrong recovered after the fall but still didn’t win the road race. She placed 35th with a time of 3:36:16.
‘No luck. No nothing.’
Although Sunday didn’t bring another medal, the family was more confident on Wednesday as it prepared to cheer Armstrong on in what cyclists call the “race of truth.” With just the rider against the clock, it’s the true test of their ability.
“She can just do her tunnel vision,” Armstrong’s niece Audrey Wilson said. “She just goes out there and knows what she has to do.”
After recovering from Sunday’s scare, Armstrong’s family was ready to take its place on the sidelines once again, this time near Hampton Court Palace.
Wednesday morning, as Marge stood by the side of the course accompanied by her husband, daughters and son, she could feel the electric tension in the air. This was Armstrong’s last attempt at a gold medal.
The family positioned itself as close to the finish line as it possibly could without having tickets. Shortly after 1 p.m., everyone watched on a big screen as Armstrong rolled down the ramp, the last of the cyclists to start her time trial.
As Armstrong neared the point where the family was standing, many around it had realized the group was related to the reigning gold medalist defending her position. Murmurs of, “That’s Kristin’s family. That’s her family,” echoed through the crowd.
Although Team Great Britain fans surrounded the family, cheers erupted throughout the area as the 38-year-old cyclist crossed the finish line and claimed her gold medal. Her family couldn’t have been prouder.
“She deserved this,” said Armstrong’s sister-in-law Sue Henderson, one of the few able to stand in the ticketed area with Lucas to see the finish line. “No luck. No nothing. She just worked hard.”
Sharing in the celebration
Despite the pride the family has for Armstrong, it isn’t always easy having an Olympic athlete in the family.
Want to go out on a leisurely bike ride with her? Not possible, said her niece Audrey Wilson.
“You could only stay with her for half the ride,” Audrey’s brother Matt said.
Even Armstrong’s husband, Joe Salvola, who also cycles, can only keep up with her for half the ride, Marge said.
It’s no surprise for the family Armstrong won her second gold, but it also knows how far she’s come since it first met her. At that point, she had just picked up cycling after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her hips and told she could no longer participate as a triathlete.
“We were just so happy when she made her first pro cycling team,” her niece Michelle Wilson said.
Training and preparing mentally for her two races have kept Armstrong busy throughout the past week. Only her husband and parents, who helped with bike preparations, were able to see her prior to Wednesday night’s celebratory dinner, when the rest of the family joined. Even her son Lucas stayed with his aunts, uncles and cousins for a majority of the time.
But the family has been understanding throughout.
“We don’t want to distract her,” Brady said. “We know she’s so focused.”
Now that the Olympic Games are over, Armstrong is heading back to the U.S. to watch the rest of the Games from the comfort of her home. Her family is off to explore the rest of London and the United Kingdom.
Lindsey Gelwicks is a senior magazine journalism major at Ball State University and features reporter for BSU at the Games. Follow Lindsey and the BSU team at @lbgelwicks, @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.
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