| Outside magazine, August 1996|
Until last year, the word on Tinker Juarez was that were he ever to recognize just how strong he really is, none of his rivals would be able to keep up. Unfortunately for the 49 other men competing in mountain biking's Olympic debut, the 35-year-old Californian appears to have figured it out. Juarez, who had been plagued by self-doubt and the demoralizing habit of finishing second, won four races in 1995--including one by an astounding seven minutes in the staunch Georgia heat. Which finally convinced him, and everyone else on the tour, that he was becoming as good a racer as his potential would suggest. "The guy has incredible power," says six-time U.S. champion Ned Overend. "When he's on, he's not an easy man to beat."
But Juarez knows all too well that physical ability is only half of the equation. At press time he was sequestered high in southern California's San Bernardino Mountains, hiding from the Olympic hoopla, because, as his manager admitted, "He was starting to wig out a little bit." Still, the knowledge that he's America's only real medal hope may be just the incentive the patriotic Juarez needs. "I can't imagine a greater dream than going to the Olympics," he says. Plus, the secluded training time should only enhance his explosiveness--which happens to be perfectly suited to the short, steep hills of the Olympic course.
At the start, look for Juarez to storm to the front with Norwegian sensation Rune Hoydahl, followed closely by Dutchman Bart Brentjens, the current world champion. The three should control the race from beginning to end, with the order of finish anyone's guess. But don't overlook Switzerland's Thomas Frischknecht, who has extra incentive given his recent history of suffering bad breaks--collarbone, chain, etc.--in big events. The cagey veteran may just hunt down the front runners and nab a podium spot.
In the women's race, victory seems almost certain for Canadian Alison Sydor. The 29-year-old former road racer--motivated by her failure to medal as a favorite in Barcelona--seems to be able to peak at will. She's won the cross-country world championship two years running and seemed cool and controlled as she took the first three World Cup events this year. American rival Juli Furtado, by contrast, appears quite tense as she nears the climax of her lifelong Olympic mission. As a highly ranked teenage skier, Furtado had her dream shattered by knee injuries. Now the 29-year-old is finally going to the Games, albeit with a monkey on her back: She's dominated each of the past three World Cup tours only to crumble under pressure in the world championships. Look for Furtado to be either wheel to wheel with Sydor in a sprint finish, a scenario she's never won, or an also-ran. Everyone else--most notably former world champion Silvia FËrst of Switzerland--will be racing for silver or bronze.