Kristen Armstrong's third gold in cycling: Why that's so impressive

American Kristin Armstrong won her third gold medal in the Olympic time trials Wednesday, with a time of 44 minutes, 26.42 seconds.

Patrick Semansky/ AP
Cyclist Kristin Armstrong of the United States, right, shows her gold medal to her son, Lucas, after winning the women's individual time trial event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Pontal beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.

When Kristin Armstrong overcame Rio’s rainy weather to win gold at Wednesday’s Olympic time trial, the American cyclist also gained several milestones. 

With her time of 44 minutes, 26.42 seconds, she became the first female Olympic cyclist to win gold medals at three games, and the first cyclist to win at the same road event at three different Olympic Games.

With her victory coming only a day shy of her 43rd birthday, she also defied controversy about her selection for the Olympic team, becoming the oldest female Olympic cycling champion – and oldest American.

"I've had the hardest journey this Olympics that I've ever had," Ms. Armstrong told the Associated Press. "There was a lot of pressure, and I didn't realize this until this year but third place was a really bad result for me. I had to win everything ... But I knew how to get it done on one day."

After winning a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, she retired for a second time, then decided earlier this year to compete for a third gold medal. But when she decided not to compete in a series of races in Europe in order to spend more time with her family, two rival riders filed for arbitration to try to make the team.

One of them had beaten Armstrong in the national championships, putting her place on the team in doubt until only a week before she left for Brazil.

Armstrong’s win also mirrors a growing number of Olympians whose victories seem to defy their ages, as The Christian Science Monitor reported.

"Forties is the new 30s for physiological capacity," Scott Trappe, director of the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University, told CNN. "We're going to continue to see people do well into their 40s – no question."

On Wednesday, Armstrong bested Russian cyclist Olga Zabelinskaya, the reigning bronze medalist, by a slim 5.55 seconds. To do that, she also overcame slick roads that hampered other competitors' efforts.

With Armstrong’s five-year-old son, Lucas, attending the race, she also joined a variety of Olympians competing this year as moms.

“The more role models the better,” Bonnie Jean Morris, who teaches about sports and gender at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week. “The more people [who] know that so-and-so had a baby and that didn’t keep her from winning gold, or going on to accomplish something big, the better for all women,” regardless of whether they're athletes.

When Lucas asked her why she was crying after her win, she reassured him "Because it's what we do when we're happy!' I'm going to have to explain that one to him a little later."

After the difficult race, she was embraced by Ms. Zabelinskaya, her Russian rival.

New Zealand rider Linda Villumsen, a world champion who finished sixth, described the road conditions as challenging. "It was very hard today. The roads on the downhills were very slick," Villumsen told the Associated Press. "I didn't want to take chances and that cost me some time. The race didn't go the way I wanted."

For Armstrong, the chance to go for another medal also represented a personal challenge.

"When you've already been two times at the pinnacle of the sport, why risk coming back for the gold medal? The best answer I can give is that I can," she told the AP. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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