Toward the end of a recent mountain bike race, Georgia Gould was leading until her leg cramped up and she was overtaken. In another, she had a flat tire, allowing two riders behind her to speed past and leave her in their dust.
On Saturday, at the Olympics, the Baltimore native was determined that no last-minute snafu was going to knock her out of the third-place position she had maintained through most of the 4.7-kilometer race.
"I definitely had that in mind. I didn't want to take any risks on the last lap," said Gould, the bronze medal now securely around her neck. "I still can't believe nothing happened in the last lap."
Julie Bresset of France led from the start of the 4.7-kilometer course to finish first in 1 hour, 30 minutes and 52 seconds, one minute and two seconds ahead of Sabine Spitz of Germany, the gold medalist in Beijing. Gould finished at 1 hour and 32 minutes.
In the audience on the windswept course, which slopes down toward the Thames Estuary, were Gould's parents, brothers and other family members -- including her grandmother, Nancy Rouse, whose 80th birthday was Saturday.
"I was able to go out and have dinner with my mom and grandmother the other night," said Gould, 32, who grew up in Guilford and Ruxton and now lives in Fort Collins, Colo. "I'm looking forward to celebrating with her tonight."
It was the first time an American woman had medaled in mountain biking since 1996, also the first year that it was an Olympic event.
Gould could be excused for feeling snake-bit going into this, her second Games. In June, in a World Cup race in Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada, she lost her lead in the final lap when her leg cramped up. Last month, in another World Cup race, in Windham, N.Y., she could see the finish line when her tire went flat and other racers passed her.
There would be no mishaps this time, although Bresset, 23, would prove unbeatable by anyone, leaving Spitz and Gould to battle for second.
"I used technique and decided to go ahead quite soon," Bresset said.
Spitz, 40, said with Gould strong in the climbs, she was glad to win the "fight for the silver medal. The silver medal is the one I'm still missing in my collection," said Spitz, who won the bronze in Athens.
After ending the first lap in ninth place, Gould rose to fourth by the second time around. Soon, though, she was in third, where she was "feeling comfortable" until Spitz crashed on some rocks on a steep part of the course called Deane's Drop. Spitz was not injured, nor was her bike broken, and she was able to continue. But the path was too narrow for Gould to get through, slowing her down as she waited for Spitz to recover.
"It was just that little bit that Julie needed to just punch it," Gould said of Bresset opening up her lead. "That's where she got the gap. It was back and forth a bit with Sabine. She got the better of me."
The course was built on the 550-acre Hadleigh Farm site owned by the Salvation Army, in the shadow of the 700-year-old Hadleigh Castle. More than 500 tons of rocks and 3,500 tons of crushed stone were hauled in to the site, on the estuary that leads to the North Sea, to create a course with such descriptive sections as Snake Hill and The Rock Garden.
Gould and U.S. teammate Lea Davison, 29, of Jericho, Vt., got off to slow starts, getting trapped behind a clump of riders.
"I sort of picked the wrong side to come up on, I guess, and I just sort of went backwards at the start," said Gould of beginning the race on the right side of the trail. "I lost a lot of time at the beginning. I tried to just be patient and move up where I could. I could see up ahead there was a little bit of cat-and-mouse going on. They weren't just drilling it, maybe I still had a chance of making it up to that front group."
Davison, who finished 11th in the 30-rider field, said she could hear the announcer calling the race and heard that Gould was in third. She was thrilled her teammate maintained her position to the end.
"She really deserves it after a lot of bad luck in the World Cups this summer," Davison said. "She's proved that she can be up there, and she did it on a big day."