A trip to see Florida's best women cyclists race in the Olympics at the Stone Mountain Park Velodrome began with a last-minute phone call. Australian cycling coaches and relatives of the Tyler family had offered Pinellas Park's Earl Henry two tickets for Sunday, the last day of track cycling, and he wanted me to drive to Atlanta with him in the middle of the night.
The Aussies needed old friends to rally around Lucy Tyler-Sharman, who had gone through a rough week in Atlanta.
Kathy Watt, gold medalist in the women's road race in Barcelona, had started legal action against the Australian Cycling Federationwhen Tyler-Sharman was named to ride the 3,000-meter and points races after posting times faster than Watt's at a German track. Watt argued that the times should have come at a certain race, even though coaches verified the world-class times.
The Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) added to the controversy when it ruled against Tyler-Sharman, saying she was only entitled to ride the last Olympic event, the points race.
As we drove toward Atlanta, I recalled visiting Henry in Pinellas Park 10 years ago. He had discovered an aspiring racer from Largo named Lucy Tyler and was teaching her to ride in a pace line and how to sprint.
We arrived at the Days Inn in Kennesaw, Ga., at 3 a.m. and Dr. Lucy Tyler, a retired Largo physician, was there to greet us, already nervous with the excitment of her daughter's Olympic race.
"This whole thing was a kick in the stomach to little Lucy," said Tyler. "Kathy Watt even refused to attend the required camp. She has not trained for the track. She was struggling in the road race in Buckhead last week. And in her 3,000, she disgraced Australia by being caught by the other rider.
"Our Aussie coaches were in tears when the (CAS) decision was announced. I don't know if Lucy will ride the points race. She is so depressed. You guys cheer her up for me, will you?"
Sunday morning at the velodrome, bags were searched and cameras were checked in the wake of the bombing at Centennial Park, but most people had no objection at all. Once inside, it was a who's who of international cycling: 1984 silver medalist Nelson Vails; masters national champions Kent Bostick, Bobby Phillips, Vic Copeland, Karen Bliss-Livingston and Bobby Livingston; Canadians, Mexicans, Japanese, French, Italians, Russians, all together laughing and talking excitedly about cycling.
We headed to the Australian section, after leaning over the railing to look at and touch the pressed wood surface of the track. It looked like squares of plywood.
Feeling like a hired gun, I sat between rabid Aussie and German fans and screamed Tyler-Sharman's name as she began to circle the track. She smiled. Raindrops had brought a nerve-wracking 2-hour rain delay for the 62-lap women's point race, and now the two-dozen riders were ready to race.
Among them was University of Florida graduate Jeanne Golay, who would now ride the last international race of her career. Golay, whose family wore "Golay Gang" T-shirts, had faded in the Buckhead road race after having to chase due to an early crash. Golay's fiance, Ralph Trapani, remarked that she was not happy to face her old rival.
After Tyler-Sharman gave Golay a friendly bump, the two seemed to settle down, although when Golay chased Tyler-Sharman it showed the old rivalry still existed. Golay failed to score on the appointed sprint laps, and the event showed that Tyler-Sharman had not lost her sprinting ability even though she had been specializing in the 3.000-meter distance.
France's Natalie Lancien won the gold with 24 points, Ingrid Haringa of Holland took the silver with 23, and Tyler-Sharman of Western Australia the bronze with 17 points.
When the Olympic medal ceremony was over, Tyler-Sharman jumped off the podium and rushed to the railing. I held her bronze medal, and there were tears in everyone's eyes. "I'm really happy," Tyler-Sharman said.
"There are more of these to come," Henry said as he held her medal.
I grabbed an Australian flag from up in the stands and Tyler-Sharman circled the track, the flag draped across her shoulders.