August 26, 2004 – “They don’t tell you what happens when you get to the top. It’s beautiful, incredible.” These were Lori-Ann Muenzer’s words just after she won Canada’s first ever-gold medal in cycling, taking two straight heats in the final against Russia’s Tamilla Abassova. The odds were against Muenzer on the evening of the semi-final and final on Tuesday, August 24 in the stunning Athens velodrome. In order to make it to the final, she would have to beat the newly crowned world record holder in the 500 metre time trial, and the woman who beat her three months earlier at the world championships in the sprint, Australia’s Anna Meares.
The Aussie took the first sprint, but age and reason dominated in the next two as Muenzer never lost her cool, and then did the same to the up and coming Russian rider. In the twenty metres before the finish line, when she realized she was about to become a golden queen, Muenzer let loose with a star-winning smile-a smile that didn’t diminish for the rest of the night.
She had prepared meticulously for these two sets of 12.126 and 12.140 seconds for the past five years. That’s when she started training with her coach Steen Madsen of Edmonton, an unlikely city to find a warm weather athlete in, considering the Aussie and Russian teams train nearly year-round in southern clime training camps. But if you can ride a bike year round in Edmonton, be a legal secretary, and regularly put yourself on the world cup and world championship podium, you’re capable of anything.
Muenzer was inspired in many ways during her journey to the gold. At ten years of age she raced other kids on her west end Toronto street. “We would line up at one end of the street, someone would yell ‘ready, set, go’ and then we would race as fast as we could to the last parked car at the end of the street,” she said. Her grandfather used to fix bikes for her and her sister, as she spent her summers in Bancroft, northeast of Toronto at her grandparent’s farm, riding second hand bikes to her heart’s content. But she didn’t officially start racing until she was 23, living on her own in Toronto, and decided she would find herself a bike. “There was a nice second-hand one there for $400, but it wasn’t my size, so I had to spend $600 and then I took a loan out because I had to buy the helmet, shoes, shorts and a jersey – I had one of everything.” In 1997, she started to ride track.
Muenzer first raced for Locomotion, a bike store in the north end of Toronto. “There were ten guys and me” she says. Today, when not racing on the world cup circuit for Canada, she competes for Juventus Cycling Club in Edmonton. Two years ago, her close friend and fellow cyclist Brenda Miller was killed there while riding, and Muenzer wears a gold medallion whenever she rides to remember her. On her coffee table at home is the Edmonton Journal article about fellow cyclist Clara Hughes when she became the first Canadian in the history of the Olympics to win medals in the summer and winter sports, after her bronze medal performance in the 5000 metres in Salt Lake City. “Her achievements were my inspiration,” says Muenzer. Now her stellar achievement in Athens will be ours.