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Savoring a Silver and Two Bronze in BMX

Aug. 23, 2008, 6:45 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING - Although the gold medals went to Latvia and France in the Olympic debut of men's and women's BMX racing, one silver and two bronze medals felt like victories for the American riders and the people who know them best. 

The first person to capture a BMX medal for the US on Friday was Jill Kintner, who might have placed fourth had it not been for a hard crash by Britain's Shanaze Reade who was trying to pass the eventual winner Anne-Caroline Chausson of France on the inside during the final turn. Chausson cut Reade off, sending her tumbling, and Kintner seized the opening, just as her personal coach Greg Romero had advised her from the stands via cell phone before the final. "My last words to her were: You're prepared for opportunity. Go get that medal."

And she did, capturing the bronze, behind Chausson and silver medalist Laetitia le Corguille of France.

During the medal ceremony, Kintner's older brother Paul snapped photos in a white t-shirt that said, "Crush ‘Em Jilly Girl" over a photo of his sister in second grade. Paul said, "It's unreal. She blew out her knee twice this year. The fact that she can beat that many girls on one knee is unreal." Then he turned and said under his breath, "Man, I'm living through my sister this year."

Kintner was proud to be the first woman in history to represent the US at the Olympics in her sport. She was also the only American woman in the field. For a time, one of her biggest rivals in the US had been Tara Llanes, an Olympic hopeful who was paralyzed from the waist down while competing against Kintner in Beaver Creek, Colo., in September 2007. Although it was by chance that Kintner received her medal from Sir Philip Craven, an IOC member who is in a wheelchair, the coincidence resonated.

"That's definitely part of the story," Kintner said.

Kintner also rode on behalf of her father, Peter, who died of a heart attack a year and a half ago. He used to operate a BMX track when Paul and Jill were children. She wrote, "4 Dad" on her gloves along with a heart. After the race, her brother said, "Dad would be proud."

Like Kintner's father, Robinson's dad also had a place in his son's bronze medal. "I got Donny into the sport for supercross motorcycle racing," Dennis Robinson said. "I figure I'd start him on a bicycle to get his riding ability up. But he got so good so fast, it didn't go as I'd planned. When he was 19, after he turned pro, he bought a CR250 Honda and rode it for maybe two hours. It's still sitting in the garage," Mr. Robinson lamented, but only half-heartedly.

Robinson's place in the final on Friday was not a given. He crashed hard in the third (of three) semifinals after South Africa's Sifiso Nhlapo hooked handlebars with him. Once he got up and placed well enough to advance to the final, Mr. Robinson thought: "That was the worst mistake to do, because he'll come back faster. Donny's the type of kid who races faster when he gets hurt. We used to joke about throwing him out of the van to get him roughed before at almost every race."

In the final, Robinson captured the bronze medal, behind a victorious Maris Strombergs of Latvia and the American silver medalist Mike Day. 

For Greg Romero, the personal coach of both Day and Kintner, said two Olympic medals by two of his protégés "was certainly the biggest thing I accomplished in my life."

The US team also included Kyle Bennett who suffered a dislocated left shoulder on Wedensday in qualifying and came back to compete in Friday's semifinals where he was edged out of a final berth.

And although the Americans might have aimed to sweep gold or go 1-2-3 in the men's race, all four athletes said after the race that they were just proud of each other and proud to take part.

 

Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This feature was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.