Wednesday, August 13, 2008
By Paul Lewis
Monday, 11 August 2008
It passed almost forgotten. One of the great Olympians and international competitors, Jeannie Longo of France, finished 24th in the women's road race.
She finished four places ahead of New Zealand's Jo Kiesanowski who was well in the hunt until the last third of the race. No big deal, you might think - except Jeannie Longo will be 50 in October and no-one has dared to ask her if this, her seventh Olympics, will be her last.
Almost certainly not. Longo is a very different character, you see.
Let's get the sporting achievements out of the way first: In road cycling, nine world championship gold medals, three silver and two bronze. In the Olympics - one gold (in the road race, in 1996), two silvers and a bronze.
In track cycling, four world championship golds (most in Sarah Ulmer's event, the 3000m individual pursuit), three silvers and three bronze.
In mountain - yup, that's right, this woman so dominated cycling she was even world-class in this crossover event, one world championship silver medal at her one and only go at it, in 1993.
That is a quite astonishing CV. Twenty-nine world championship or Olympic medals over a 27-year career.
And it hasn't finished yet. Even more remarkable is the fact that Longo is here at all. She attributes her longevity to her organic lifestyle. Allergies to chemicals and additives have seen her pursue a relentlessly puritanical approach to life.
She chose her house in the French alps, because of the clean air, she keeps goats, keeps a garden and bikes off every day to get fresh organic milk from the local organic farm. She travels with her own organic carrots, filters her water and has a de-ioniser.
It is this lifestyle that has powered her remarkable career, she says.
She is also a considerable personality. She doesn't take prisoners. You are either with Longo or against her and the scrapes she has had with French cycling authorities over the years are countless. She has outspoken political views - she doesn't think China should have been awarded the Games and she is pro-Tibet - and has been known to shun other places on the grounds they are not healthy.
So why is she in Beijing? Because she can - that's all. Nearly 50 years old and still competing credibly in a sport which requires huge fitness and stamina - the women's road race was 126km done at a fierce clip (three and a half hours) -- Longo is still a force to be reckoned with.
So she will now finally retire this year, won't she? Longo routinely retires after every Olympics only to emerge again and take on another one.
"I am not a liar," she said this week. "But every time the urge comes back and I resume training and I feel fine. London could be fun and it's not far from home."
Jeannie Longo, aged 53, Olympic road race cyclist? Don't bet against it.
This story was sourced from The New Zealand Herald
The 1996 road race gold medallist and nine-time world champion Longo-Ciprelli, who turns 50 in October, almost captured her sixth Olympic medal, but with a time of 35:52.62 fell less then two seconds short of bronze.