On the morning of Sunday July 29 1984, 45 cyclists, from 16 different nations, lined up on Marguerite Parkway in Mission Viejo for the 50-mile Individual Women’s Road Race competition during the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. It was 87 degrees outside, but that didn’t’ stop an estimated 275,000 spectators from lining the almost 10-mile circuit course. The women would ride a total of five laps that ran around the center of Mission Viejo. The favorites to win for the homebase were two women from team USA, Connie Carpenter(-Phinney) and Rebecca Twigg.
The race started at 9:00 am and before the end of the first lap, a breakaway had formed that included the four women of team USA. For the first 3 laps of the 5 total, Connie Carpenter, Rebecca Twigg, Janelle Parks, and Inga Thompson-Benedict shared the task of holding the pace at the front of the breakaway. The heat was working to the advantage of the Americans.
About halfway through the race, Carpenter and Twigg, along with Sandra Schumacher of West Germany, Unni Larsen of Norway, Jeannie Longo of France and Maria Canins of Italy, broke away from the peloton on an ascent up Vista Del Lago, with Canins taking the lead. She was keeping up the pace, making everyone else work hard to ride her speed. The peloton fell back, quickly losing time and eventually falling a minute and 27 seconds behind.
1984 Olympics Women’s Cycling Road Race showing (L to R) Connie Carpenter, Maria Canins, Unni Larsen, Rebecca Twigg, and Sandra Schumacher pass the finish line during one of the many loops they would make around the road course in Mission Viejo, California.
Shortly following the breakaway, Twigg attempted a break alone. She maintained her lead for several miles, but it turned out to be too early of a move. The rest of the six-woman pack caught up with her, and the competition continued. It was no love lost between her and Carpenter, though. While Twigg moved to the back in 5th position, Carpenter fixed herself at the front and slowed down the pace of the breakaway. The six riders kept consistent, turning at a pace of about 26 minutes per lap. Getting closer to the end of the final lap, Carpenter and Twigg worked together, trading positions and carrying one another for a few minutes. This strategy kept them strong for the last final meters.With only a kilometer left to go, and Olympiad Road in sight (formerly O’Neill Rd., re-named to commemorate the Olympic event), spectators cheered and dumped water on the frenzied riders as they rushed past the
With only a kilometer left to go, and Olympiad Road in sight (formerly O’Neill Rd., re-named to commemorate the Olympic event), spectators cheered and dumped water on the frenzied riders as they rushed past the crowed. Canins began to lead out the sprint in front, but Carpenter and Twigg wouldn’t let her stay ahead of the Americans too long. About 500 meters from the finish, Twigg pulled out on the right and sprinted towards the lead. When it seemed she would get ahead of Carpenter, Carpenter began to pick up the pace, savoring the sprint for the perfect moment. At the 200 meter mark, Carpenter sprinted furiously towards the finish, outstretching her arms and throwing her bike forward for an exhilarating finish. With a time of 2:11:14, the first women’s road race, in the history of the Olympic games, concluded with a photo finish by two USA cyclists. Connie Carpenter was 27 years old when she was the first woman in history to wear gold for road cycling at the Olympic games, and Rebecca Twigg was 21 years old when she stood on the podium wearing silver. It was a spectacular day for cycling.
1984 Olympics Women’s Cycling Road Race with cyclists turning corner as they wind through the pastoral early-80’s Orange County.
Before the 1984 Olympics, Connie Carpenter (-Phinney) was already a well-known force in international sports. At the age of 14, she competed on the U.S. speed skating team at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, and in 1976 won the US National Overall Outdoor Title. A serious injury prevented her from competing in the 1976 Olympics, but led her to train more seriously on the bike. Between 1977 and 1984, Carpenter won four World Championships in road and track cycling. She also took up rowing while attending college at UC Berkley in the early 1970s. During her time on the varsity rowing team she helped to secure two national titles. She is the mother of BMC rider, and 2016 Olympic contender, Taylor Phinney. Carpenter-Phinney and her husband, Davis Phinney, started the Davis Phinney Foundation in 2004, and since then they have raised more than $3.8 million in improving the lives of people with Parkinsons.
Rebecca Twigg attended college at the University of Washington at the age of 14, where she would eventually earn a degree in Biology at the age of 20. While in school she turned her attention to bicycle racing, where she applied her talent and passion for perfection. Within a short time, she was dominating the competition in junior girls road and track competitions. She won her first of 16 National Championship titles (in the individual time trial) at the age of 18. After only a couple of years of racing, she had attracted the attention of the U.S. National Team coach, Eddie Borysewicz, who would eventually grant her a spot on Team USA at the ’84 Olympics.
Images courtesy of the Mission Viejo Heritage Committee Collection