Jill Kintner thought her Olympic dream ended four weeks ago, when she was writhing in the dirt, screaming in agony after re-injuring her chronically right knee in a training crash.
She felt no pain Saturday.
By finishing sixth at the BMX world championships in Taiyuan, China, the 26-year-old from Seattle earned enough points to barely edge Arielle Martin of Pleasant Grove, Utah, in USA Cycling's yearlong battle for the lone automatic women's BMX berth into this summer's Beijing Olympics.
"I didn't even know it was possible," Kintner said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Saturday from Taiyuan. "For it to come down like this, I don't know what to think. There had to be some higher forces working for me."
However, the day will likely be remembered as bittersweet for the American women, most of whom struggled Saturday. Although the official rankings have not yet been confirmed by the International Cycling Union, calculations by USA Cycling show they will have only one women's start position in the Beijing Games meaning while Kintner races for Olympic gold, her close friend Martin will be watching.
"I was crying because of that more than because I made it," said Kintner, who was with Martin when USA Cycling's BMX director Mike King came into their hotel room Saturday evening and broke the news. "Today, it's a lot more bitter than sweet. Tomorrow, it might be a different story."
The U.S. could have secured a second Olympic spot with some strong finishes Saturday. But other than Kintner, no American woman advanced out of the quarterfinals. Martin crashed in her quarterfinal race, ending her day, and probably her Olympic hopes as well.
Kintner entered Saturday 13 points behind Martin in the USA Cycling standings. Martin was eliminated in the quarterfinals, meaning she did not add any points to her yearlong total. And by finishing sixth an outcome that was all but assured when two French women in the eight-racer final stumbled Kintner earned 14 points, giving her a 129-128 victory after the 17-race competition.
Kintner and Martin were roommates both on the trip to China and for the last several months at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
"You take the good with the bad," King said. "You're happy for one and you're hurting for the other."
Shanaze Reade of Great Britain won the women's world title, with France's Ann-Caroline Chausson second and New Zealand's Sarah Walker third.
In the men's race, Steven Cisar of Altadena, Calif., came through with a silver medal the lone podium finish for the Americans at the world championships. He was nipped by Maris Strombergs of Latvia in the final.
"I couldn't be more stoked right now," Cisar said. "Everything clicked today. Everything went my way."
It's a huge boost to Cisar's Olympic hopes. He'll compete in the BMX trials in Chula Vista on June 14, knowing a victory is the only surefire way he'll make the three-man American team headed to Beijing in August.
"It does a lot for my confidence right now going into the trials race," said Cisar, who was sixth at the 2006 world championships and fourth last year adding to his reputation of doing his best in the biggest races. "I've got to put it together there. Hopefully everything will go my way on June 14."
Cisar edged Sifiso Nhlapo for the silver. Donny Robinson of Napa, Calif. who is widely expected to be on the Olympic team through either a victory at the trials or by earning the coaches' selection spot was fourth in the men's final.
Former world champion Kyle Bennett, who qualified earlier this month to represent the U.S. in the Beijing Games by easily winning the men's points race, did not advance out of the quarterfinals. Fellow Americans Danny Caluag and Randy Stumpfhauser also were eliminated in the same quarterfinal heat as Bennett.
For the U.S. women, Martin, Kim Hayashi and Stephanie Barragan were all ousted in the quarterfinals.
Kintner was a four-time national champion and three-time world champion in the event known as mountain-cross, where racers on mountain bikes head downhill while dodging obstacles. But because BMX was added to the Olympic program, she returned to the smaller bike this year with eyes of making the team headed to Beijing.
She was a junior BMX world champion as a teenager and now as an adult, will have the chance of adding a gold medal to her resume.
"After all I've gone through to get here, I guess it was worth it," Kintner said.