On the first day of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Connie Carpenter Phinney became the first winner of the first ever women’s Olympic cycling road race. It would be her last race, and the last of many championships.
Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Connie grew up across the street from a flooded playground, and would skate nearly every winter night of her childhood. Speed skating was a natural for her, and at the age of 14, Connie was one of the youngest members of the U.S. Olympic team that went to Sapporo where she finished 7th in the 1,500 meters. There were hopes for a medal in 1976, but ankle problems caused her to miss the team and turn her attention towards cycling.
Bike racing fit Connie Carpenter perfectly, the requirements of strength, stamina, discipline and desire were native qualities. In her first year devoted to cycling, she won the first of 12 National Championships, but like many women’s sports in the 1970’s, cycling lacked broad-based support, and by 1980, Connie was ready to quit.
Connie fell in love twice on her way to the ’84 Olympics, first with bike racer Davis Phinney, and then with his hometown of Boulder. They were married in the fall of 1983, and “America’s First Family of Cycling” now features son Taylor and daughter Kelsey. Both of her pre-Olympic loves would help fashion a gold medal, as moving to Colorado taught Connie graduate level climbing, and Davis helped her with his specialty, sprinting. Living in Boulder also provided an environment of support for Connie, this cycling-friendly community rallied around the Phinneys and their racing careers.
1984 was a long year for Connie and Davis as the pressure of the Olympics began to build. She would have one race to make four years of work worthwhile, and he was in two events. The press and the public wanted to know more about the husband and wife Olympians. The Phinneys wanted to train.
July 29, 1984 saw a beautiful day dawn on Mission Viejo, this first day of the Olympics saw her race go according to form for most of its 50 miles, with 6 racers in the lead group. All accomplished champions, with every right to think the gold medal would be theirs. As the final sprint developed, it would come down to two Americans, Connie and Rebecca Twigg. In the final 50 meters they were dead even, but in the race’s final moment, Connie leaned back and threw her bike forward about a foot, a sprinting trick she had learned from her husband. In a photo finish, Connie Carpenter Phinney won a 50 mile race for an Olympic gold medal by a couple of inches.
Those two inches allowed her to stand atop the podium that sunny afternoon as an Olympic champion, while the national anthem played, on her last day as a bike racer.
Connie Carpenter Phinney became the first winner of the first ever women’s Olympic cycling road race.