London, England – When United States cyclist Kristin Armstrong broke her collarbone in May, she insisted that she would be ready to compete in the London Olympics.
Wednesday, Armstrong delivered on that promise, winning a second consecutive gold medal in the women's time trial.
She dominated the 29-kilometer event throughout, recording the fastest split at two intermediate time checks before crossing the line in 37 minutes, 34.82 seconds. That was more than 15 seconds faster than Germany's Judith Arndt, who won last year's world championship in the discipline.
"I'm happy for her," Arndt said of Armstrong. "She is a super athlete. She was better and I have to congratulate her. She already was an Olympic champion and winning like this, that's very impressive."
Russian Olga Zabelinskaya won bronze with a time of 37:57.35. Zabelinskaya also took bronze in the women's road race.
Following time trial victories at the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 World Championships, Armstrong retired from the sport and started a family. She had a son, Lucas, but hadn't completely walked away from the sport -- not 100 percent.
The thought of holding a desk job didn't appeal to Armstrong, who realized she really wanted to continue riding her bike competitively. With her family supporting her, she returned to the sport and her world-class form.
The collarbone break earlier this year was a setback, but it also gave Armstrong some time off the bike. She worked with a physical therapist, developed a plan and had what she called a "very focused" six weeks of training, coming to London with good form and aspirations to win again.
As Armstrong said last week, "once you win gold, you don't want to win anything less."
On Wednesday, Armstrong was last to roll down the start gate and quickly settled into a smooth, powerful cadence.
Zabelinskaya had started many riders before her and set the early lead at the first two time checks -- only to be surpassed by New Zealand's Linda Villumsen. But when Armstrong, 38, rolled through, she set the fastest times.
The Russian set an impressive standard when she crossed the finish line, then took her place on the center "hot seat" -- one of three golden thrones set up by the race organizers for the current top-three to sit in. The second- and third-place riders changed, but Zabelinskaya remained in the middle as the leader.
Other top contenders -- like Great Britain's Emma Pooley and Canada's Clara Hughes -- weren't able to surpass Zabelinskaya's lead.
Villumsen was the first to have a good shot as beating it, but faded in the final 9km and was a few seconds slower.
Arndt bumped Zabelinskaya to second with a time of 37:50.29, but Armstrong was still on the course, and she was flying. Heading into the final few kilometers, she passed Dutch star Marianne Vos, who had started three minutes in front. Vos won gold in a tough road race Sunday but struggled to a 16th- place finish Wednesday.
Well before the finish line, it was clear Armstrong would win and she secured the title with her final pedal strokes.
Still breathing heavily and wearing her aero helmet, Armstrong stepped onto the platform that held the hot seat thrones and took her place in the middle. Minutes later, she did the same during the medal ceremony, when she brought her son onto the podium.
And Armstrong stood there, right there in the middle on the top step, with Lucas holding the bouquet of flowers and another gold medal hanging around her neck.
"When I came back, everyone asked me why in the world would I come back," Armstrong said. "And the reason I came back was because the feeling I got in Beijing, nothing could top that, but I couldn't imagine being on the top step of the podium with my son, Lucas, in my arms."
Armstrong added that she is now, officially, retired, a move she apparently planned beforehand. She said she knew she had to live with whatever result she got.
"No matter what athlete you are, you're only as good as your last performance," she said.
Armstrong was already a champion in many respects. But after Wednesday, she's as good as gold.