August 26, 2004 – The U.S. Olympic Track squad closed out their Athens campaign this evening narrowly missing a medal in the women’s points race after Erin Mirabella (Racine, Wis.) placed fourth. After riding an aggressive race, Mirabella had a chance to clinch a spot on the podium in the event’s final sprint but fell just short, three points away from the bronze medal.
Unlike yesterday’s men’s points race that saw 33 laps taken, including four by the gold medalist alone, the women’s race was decided simply by intermediate sprint points with no riders lapping the field during the 25km race. Mirabella put herself in a position to earn a medal early and often by contesting nearly every one of the 10 sprints. “I’ve tried a few different strategies in the points race, but decided to go back to my bread and butter which is to be aggressive, stay up front, and try to be in all the moves,” Mirabella explained afterwards.
That strategy paid off early after Mirabella collected three points in the first of the intermediate sprints that are held every ten laps. From then on, the pace intensified and throughout the next three laps the duo of Belem Guerrero (MEX) and Luisa Calle (COL) managed to collect 10 and 11 points respectively giving Mirabella the daunting task of making up lost ground in a race that only seemed to get faster each lap.
In the second half of the race, four time world champion, Olga Slyusareva (RUS) went to work and won three sprints in four laps to collect a quick 15 points and propel her into the lead. After nine laps, Guerrero and Calle had notched 12 points each to Slyusareva’s 19. Meanwhile, Mirabella had nine points to her credit and was in position to take silver of bronze on the final sprint, but the pace that ensued on the closing laps prevented Mirabella from holding the position she needed to medal. In the final sprint, Mirabella was held scoreless keeping her point total at nine.
Slyusareva took the gold medal with 20 points ahead of Guerrero’s 14 and Calle’s 12. “The last few laps were so hard and I just wasn’t in a great position,” said Mirabella. “I’m still happy with my performance. It’s my best result at an international event and I can say I came to the Olympics and did my very best.”
With Mirabella just off the pace for a medal, the U.S. track contingent looked to 2000 Olympic gold medalist, Marty Nothstein (Orefield, Pa.). Nothstein, 25 pounds lighter from the Sydney Games, lined up to contest the keirin and was demoted to the first round repechage after placing third behind Renee Wolf (GER) and Jose Escuerdo (ESP) in his opening race. Nothstein seemed to have the top-two finish necessary to advance wrapped up until a late surge by Escuerdo nipped him at the line.
In the ensuing repechage round, where another top-two finish would send him into the second round, Nothstein couldn’t come around Mickael Bourgain (FRA) and Josiah Ng (MAS) after a final turn surge was thwarted by a sudden move by Toshiaki Fushimi (JPN) derailing Nothstein’s hopes for a medal in three consecutive Olympic Games.
“That’s keirin racing,” explained Nothstein. “You go from good to bad to almost crashing. That’s the nature of the race and sometimes you just can’t control everything that happens. I always go in with a plan, but half the time it doesn’t work.”
Nothstein’s track racing career, which includes a silver medal in Atlanta to go with his gold in 2000, will likely come to a close after the 2005 UCI Track World Championships slated for Los Angeles, Calif. in March at the newly opened ADT Event Center. “I still have what it takes,” he assured. “Ultimately, I’d like to ride the scratch race and maybe find a good madison rider to compete with.”
After a break on Thursday, the U.S. Olympic Cycling Team resumes competition on Friday when Mary McConneloug (Fairfax, Calif.) competes in the women’s mountain bike race.