Christophe Ena, Associated Press
JUYONGGUAN, China For nearly a month earlier this summer, cyclist Levi Leipheimer trained in the Park City mountains that some 150 years ago attracted thousands of miners in search of silver.
And Wednesday, about 40-plus miles north of Beijing, Leipheimer cycled his way to another precious metal or better yet, precious medal in the mountains shouldering the famous Great Wall of China.
With a late push to move to third place from fifth in the men's time trials, Leipheimer who prepped at Salt Lake City's Rowland Hall claimed the event's bronze medal, the first medal of any color won by a Utah Olympian at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
"I was really fighting hard for that medal," he said. "It has been a lifelong dream to get a medal in the Olympics, so I gave it everything I had on that last bit and pushed myself very hard and it paid off."
Leipheimer finished the 48-kilometer course consisting of two 24-kilometer laps, starting just below the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall, climbing up the highway to the wall's Badaling section, and then back down to Juyongguan on a near-parallel road.
His time of 1 hour, 3 minutes and 21.11 seconds trailed only gold medalist Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland (1:02:11.43) and silver medalist Gustav Larsson of Sweden (1:02:44.79).
After finishing, Leipheimer collapsed in a heap beyond the finish line, admitting later to being "delirious" from exhaustion.
Contrary to custom, he sat on the ground, collecting his thoughts, his breath and any available bottle of water within reach while watching the final half-dozen cyclists finish the race, waiting to see if his time would hold up for the bronze.
It did, and Leipheimer, who placed 11th in Saturday's 240-kilometer road race, became the second American cyclist to win a time trials medal that day.
Boise's Kristin Armstrong won the gold medal in the women's time trials, giving the United States five time trials cycling medals combined from the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
"To see her win definitely gave me morale," said Leipheimer. "It made me believe a little more in myself."
"I really think it paid off," Leipheimer said of his high-altitude training in the thin air of Utah's high elevations. He returned home to California for two weeks at sea level before heading to Beijing.
His time along the Wasatch Front was also spent watching the 2008 Tour de France, which he had hoped to again be a part of this year after joining his new team, Team Asanta.
However, Asanta wasn't allowed in the '08 Tour because of its ties to the '07 doping scandals, and Leipheimer couldn't win an appeal from the International Cycling Union to allow him to ride as an unattached individual.
So, while he watched the Tour on TV, he seethed and got charged up for the Olympics.
"It helped me to motivate myself for these races," Leipheimer said. "I really so badly wanted to be there (in France). To sit at home in July and watch the Tour go on without me and without my team gave me motivation to do my best."
While he didn't get to add to his Tour de France resume, which included a stop atop the podium after winning the '07 Stage 5 time trial and third place overall last year, his bronze-medal effort this week "is just as good," he said.
"Just to be an Olympian and then to win a medal it's indescribable," he added.
With his Games medal, Leipheimer takes home a Beijing souvenir few other Olympians will pack away when heading home.
And you can forgive him if he's not anxious to climb the Great Wall's mountain-ridge towers at Juyongguan and Badaling.
After all, with seven laps around the two sections in Saturday's road race and another two during Wednesday's time trials, he's already seen it enough during this trip to China."It looks awfully steep," he said, adding with a smile, "I don't really feel like climbing it now."
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