One lousy point. Only one Olympic slot. And Arielle Martin, for the moment, is out.
It was a bad week Martin and for American women at the BMX World Championships in Taiyuan, China. Martin went in ranked as the top rider in the U. S. by 13 points, her Olympic berth virtually assured either by points for the top slot or by coach's discretion for the second. But anything can happen in sports. Right from the start, unexpected things happened.
On her website, Martin writes about the first practice on the track, which was the day after a sandstorm. It was still blowing, and her lungs began burning in the fierce wind, a burning she said she has never before experienced. She couldn't seem to get enough air, and drinking water didn't help.
In the qualifying race, she was a star. But then, in the quarterfinals, she crashed. She watched the pack race past her. Jill Kintner, the only other U. S. rider who is even close to Martin, made the finals and came in sixth. It gave her 14 points, one more than Martin.
Okay, one point. No big deal. But it became a monstrous deal, a horrible deal when USA Cycling, the governing body for BMX, figured out the women's world rankings after the race. The American women had not done well enough. The U. S. would not qualify for two Olympic women's slots. There would be only one opening for a woman BMX rider, and Kintner clinched it---by one point.
Kintner, who recently had knee surgery less than a month ago and must ride with a brace, was shocked. She began crying when she heard the news; not for joy, but for sadness that there was only one entry allowed to her country. It meant that her friend Martin, the fellow competitor who was not a rival because they pushed each other past their limits, the one who helped her get where she was at that moment, that friend would not be with her in Beijing.
"It's not the same celebration without my homie," Kintner wrote on her web site.
But Martin, whose husband was deployed to Afghanistan in January, is not giving up. She had hoped that they could each wear the uniform of their country; he as a soldier, she as an Olympian. She is taking a week to spend time with her family, but then she is returning to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California to continue training.
The number of slots for each country will be officially announced by the international federation on Friday. The U. S. men are in good shape with three slots, and rider Stephen Cisar was second in the Worlds.
But anything can happen in sports. Martin says she is not holding her breath, but she writes that she has not yet given up on that second slot, adding, "I am going to continue training and riding as if I am going, because it's not over until it's over."
RESULTS: BMX WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
1. Maris Strombergs (Latvia)
2 .Steve Cisar (USA) 3 Sifiso Nhlapo (Z-Afr)
4 Donny Robinson (USA)
1. Shanaze Reade (UK)
2. Ann-Caroline Chausson (Fra)
3. Sarah Walker (NZL)
4. Jill Kintner