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Wednesday, July 31, 1996
PROFILE: Alison Sydor
Sydor grabs Olympic silver

By KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun
CONYERS, Ga. -- The thought had crossed Alison Sydor's mind.

What if?

The dominant mountain biker on the planet this year with six consecutive World Cup wins, Sydor had wondered how she'd feel if she didn't win yesterday's Olympic race.

Now she knows.

Sydor, of Vancouver, settled for the silver medal yesterday, far behind former world champion Paola Pezzo of Italy.

"I thought I might be disappointed," Sydor said. "But I'm not. In sport you have to take what you have on the day and do what you can with it.

"I did what I could with what I had today."

Sydor had known Olympic disappointment before in another discipline, finishing 12th in the women's road race at Barcelona in an event in which she had an outside shot at a medal.

"But I was out of that race from the start," she said.

Fast-forward to yesterday as the first Olympic mountain bike race was won in one deft, swift thrust by the Italian.

Through the first lap of three on the 10.6-kilometre course, Pezzo, Sydor, Juliana Furtado and Susan DeMattei of the United States and Laurence Leboucher of France were in a tight little pack on the lead with DeMattei in front.

Less than a kilometre later, Pezzo had broken free on a solo dash. Another two kilometres later, she had built a 25-second lead and the gold was, for all practical purposes, hers.

"When Paola went by us, it was clear that no one was going to be able to stay with her," Sydor said. "When you make a break like that, you are taking a gamble that you'll have enough to sustain it later in the race. I hoped she would come back to us.

"But she had an awesome day. I had a great day but it wasn't awesome."

By the end of the second lap, Pezzo had a whopping lead of 1:42. By the end of the race Sydor had cut that to about a minute but Pezzo was never threatened.

Sydor had broken free of DeMattei early in the third lap and her silver was never in doubt from that point. Canadian Lesley Tomlinson was not nearly so fortunate. She fell early in the race and struggled to a 13th-place finish.

There were 30,000 spectators spread over the winding, hilly course on a harsh, rocky piece of land that would make Sudbury seem lush.

But the course wasn't the greatest enemy of the riders. That distinction belonged to the 32C temperatures, reached under a blazing sun.

"I felt uncomfortable from the start to the finish," Sydor said. "But I was able to stay pretty level most of the race.

"I feel pleased and proud, the way I wanted to feel after the race.

"I didn't want my Olympic experience to be a disappointment. That's what I worried about: coming here to such a special event and going away unhappy."

At the end of her ride, Sydor's parents were waiting. If she was happy, they were over the moon.

"Alison has always known where she was going and how she was going to get there," her dad Hank Sydor said.

He recounted how, at the age of two, fresh from her tricycle, Alison hopped on a neighbor kid's two-wheeler and simply started riding.

"I've never thought of it as some kind of sign or anything," Alison said with a laugh. "I do remember that the kid's dad was a little choked that I could ride it and the other boy couldn't."

Hank Sydor, a mining engineer originally from Welland, Ont., says that kind of thing is typical of his daughter.

"She never knew what training wheels were in anything she tried," he said. "She wanted something, she worked as hard as she could and usually got it.

"She played all kinds of team sports as a kid and was always the hardest-working kid on the team. It used to frustrate her that other kids who didn't work as hard got more playing time.

"I think that's why she went to individual things."

Sydor tried to be a triathlete, but found it too time consuming.

"Besides," her dad said, "she always complained that there's nothing more uncomfortable than getting on a bike in a wet bathing suit."

Cycling was a natural alternative and, after becoming an accomplished road racer, the new sport of mountain biking grabbed her interest.

Yesterday, it took her right up a peak called Olympus.
Alison Sydor in the news
Everything wrong for Sydor
Sydor finishes fifth in Sydney
Sydor takes silver in Sydney tune-up
Sydor in pictures
Racing in Sydney
A Sydney start
In action
Silver medallist
Wiping out