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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  9/1/2008

Chapeau Christine!

Christine Thorburn doesn't need a bronze, silver or gold medal to gain my admiration. So what if she didn't end up on the podium in Beijing? IMHO, she belongs on a podium all her own for what she has accomplished in her 38 years.

Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, Christine did well enough in pre-med at Grinnell College to get into Stanford Medical School in 1994. While running cross country, mind you. A tool she is not. But running was doing in her knees and she needed an athletic outlet. A couple of classmates who were already on the Stanford Cycling team) figured she was a ringer. And boy, was she. She was instrumental in Stanford's second-place finish at the USA Cycling Collegiate National Road Championships in 1998.

Fast forward to 2004: Christine is now in residency at Stanford in Rheumatology, "an arthritis doctor," as she explained it to a news reporter. You've heard how hard residents have it, right? Well, she just happened to earn her rainbow jersey that year, at the National Time Trial Championship. And that garnered her a spot on the US Olympic Team.

"I could not kick the habit [of cycling] despite hours of work in the hospital through residency," she admitted. But then she took a postdoctoral fellowship, when she "had a bit more time to focus on cycling, which led me to attempt a legitimate cycling career. . .." She joined the Webcor Builders Women's Cycling Team, turning "pro" in order to work with their Directeur Sportif, 1994 World Champion Karen Brems. Webcor

In Athens Christine just missed the Bronze Medal in the Individual Time Trial. "I could be philosophical about it like, 'Why does it matter?' But like it or not, getting on the podium is meaningful," she told the Des Moines Register this year.

In 2005, along with an overall win at the Redlands Bicycle Classic and first place at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, she also stood on the podium in my home town at the International Tour de 'Toona. She finished that season as Best Individual Rider in the Women's Prestige Series.

The icing on the cake was when she clinched the Bronze at the World TT Championships in Salzburg. And if that wasn't enough, she took first overall in the Tour du Grand Montreal the same year.

All this and she managed to plan her wedding in 2005, establish her rheumatology practice at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic in 2006, compete successfully in the Worlds in 2007, and qualify for the three-woman U.S. Olympic team this year. Whew!

I mean, you gotta train for this stuff. And to snag a practice at Palo Alto Medical, you gotta be an outstanding academic and clinical performer. And look smashing not just at your wedding, but on the bike and off? Christine, you do it all!

No wonder she took a leave of absence to train for Beijing this year. It paid off with a fifth place, just three seconds off the Bronze Medal. Now I think that's pretty darned impressive. Keep in mind that the competition wasn't limited to the likes of Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong; there were some pretty strong full-time racers out there. One of them, Jeannie Longo, is probably the most competitive woman racer in existence. And Christine was figuratively breathing down Longo's neck.

Probably one good reason Christine did so well in the TT was how she took advantage of the miserable conditions during the road race on a cold, rainy Sunday, August 10. She finished nearly nine minutes behind Gold Medalist Nicole Cooke of Great Britain, crossing the line in fifty-second place. Thor

"Strange as it sounds, however, Thorburn might have performed as well - or better - than any of the eight Americans who competed in those road tests from downtown Beijing to the Great Wall," Tim Reynolds of USA Cycling blogged on RunTri. "[Her] task was to chase down leaders and try to keep [her] teammates in the race, . . .. [She] spent tons of energy doing just that, and though it didn't result in any American medals," she did the job.

"The road race was a huge goal for me as a team event," she told Reynolds, "Now I've seen the course and the setup for [the TT on] Wednesday. And I definitely would say I saw a lot of the key time trialists backing off when it got bad out here."

Type A all the way

"A few days ago I was chatting with American Christine Thorburn about Wednesday's individual time trial," reported Fred Dreier for VeloNews.com. "The Californian went through a laundry list of meticulous technical and training specifications she had nailed down in preparation for the race against the clock - an event that historically rewards a rider's attention to detail."

"On the U.S. team we have Type-A, Type Double-A and Type Triple-A," she told him. "I'm double. She's triple," she said, pointing to Armstrong. She was thrilled to see her teammate on the podium. "I'm so happy for Kristin. She's been preparing impeccably for the last four years, frankly. She was totally ready and totally deserving."

Did I mention that Christine received the Carole King Award in 2005 for outstanding sportsmanship? It shows. "I think women's athletics tends to exemplify the Olympic spirit all the time" she told the San Jose Mercury News in late July. "Most of my competitors do it because they truly love it - and I appreciate that. It's still sport to me. It's not big business and I prefer that."

Christine and Ted

I met Christine, along with her husband Ted Huang, last year, through my connections at The Bicycle Outfitter in Los Altos. And I so wanted to interview her for this column right after the Olympics. But the two of them made a long-term stopover in Taiwan to visit Ted's relatives and won't return before deadline.

They met on what I assume was a casual ride in 1998 but didn't begin dating until four years later. Ted popped the question on a trip to Italy, while they were visiting the chapel of the Madonna di Ghisallo, the patron saint of cyclists. They'll celebrate their third wedding anniversary in November. Ted and Christine

Although I'm used to seeing the two of them on the road or at the shop, it turns out that cycling is Ted's Òother sport.Ó The top-ranked American windsurfer between 1989 and 1996, he was the one competing in the Olympics in 1996 and 2000, placing ninth and twelfth respectively. Once on the bike, though, Ted was placing in the top 25 at every edition of the San Francisco Grand Prix, including an impressive 12th place in 2003. Unfortunately, a horrible crash at Redlands in March 2004 kept him sidelined for several months. But he came back, as they say, "with a vengeance," especially as Christine's faithful training partner.

Today, Ted works as an Internet technology project manager for Webcor Builders and is the company's unofficial director of cycling programs.

You couldn't meet a nicer couple. Gracious, friendly and willing to answer any silly question from the likes of me. And so I raise my cycling cap to them both -- Chapeau!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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