Another four-year wait for Linda Villumsen

MARK GEENTY IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012
Linda Villumsen
Lawrence Smith/Fairfax Media
CLOSE CALL: Linda Villumsen finished fourth in the women's time trial.

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About the only thing to do when you finish an agonising fourth at an Olympics is shed a tear, or grit your teeth and utter the immortal line “four more years”.

To Linda Villumsen's immense credit, she was immediately casting an eye forward to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 as she digested missing a coveted Olympic medal by 1.83 seconds in the women's cycling time trial at the historic Hampton Court Palace.

Carrying the look of someone who'd been hit with a stun gun, the quietly-spoken Villumsen had to try hard to apply a positive spin. It was her second narrow miss at an Olympics after she finished fifth in the road race in 2008, when riding for her native Denmark.

“It's not too bad, I guess. I have a few years to work on things. I might be back in four years.”

At least, at 27, she has time on her side, and her main rivals don't. American Kristin Armstrong, who defended her Beijing title in dominant style, is aged 38, runner-up Judith Arndt of Germany 36 and Russian bronze medallist Olga Zabelinskaya 32. And fifth-placed Canadian Clara Hughes, who returned from retirement for her Olympic medal bid, is 39.

BikeNZ high-performance director Mark Elliott shared Villumsen's pain, having nominated her as the cycling team's top medal hope. But he could see the bigger picture, too.

“Linda's philosophical. It's got to be Rio. She just said: ‘can you put up with me for another four years'.

“You see a lot of women in endurance sports, they get stronger as they get a little bit older. Linda's still young so if she wants to carry on she's still got at least a couple of Olympics in her.”

It all looked so promising as Villumsen flew out of the blocks and was a clear second for much of the 29km time trial.

She had 1.5sec to spare over third-placed Arndt at the 20km mark; a podium in front of Henry VIII's historic former residence beckoned.

Armstrong always had gold in safe keeping, then Arndt and the surprise package Zabelinskaya finished strongly. The latter won bronze in the road race but hadn't featured in time trial calculations.

There was a school of thought, too, that Villumsen would have been better suited by a more technical course, such as the tight turns and hills of Melbourne where she won world championship bronze in 2010. She also admitted she may have lost focus in the final few kilometres.

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So ended a hopeful but fruitless Olympic road campaign for New Zealand's team of three.

None disgraced themselves, with Villumsen going close, Jack Bauer finishing an excellent 10th in a stellar road race and Greg Henderson forced out with stomach problems. Bauer's first Games ended with a 19th place in the 44km men's time trial won by hometown hero Bradley Wiggins.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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