By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – American cyclist John Klish walked up alongside Holger Kleefuss of Germany at the starting line of the 1000m Sprint at the Botanical Gardens in Sofia.
He had just one thing on his mind – winning this race.
It was the last race of the day, and the bronze medal was in play. The winner would get the medal, and the loser would go home empty-handed.
Both cyclists mounted their bicycles, crossed the starting line and slowly paced each other, trying to draw a favorable line against the other. In tandem, Klish and Kleefus hugged the turn and raced down the final stretch neck and neck.
As the finish line drew near, Klish decided it was time.
He kicked his bike into gear and roared down the stretch, leaving Kleefus in the dust and clinching the bronze medal for himself and the United States.
“I’m so happy and thrilled,” Klish said moments after winning. “I still cannot believe that I actually won the bronze medal today. All my hard work actually paid off down that final stretch when I pulled that kick to win the final race.”
Klish’s medal capped a successful day for the U.S., which already had a bronze in its medal count after Lindsay Lorenz raced ahead of Long Hoi of Macau to take third in the women’s 1000m Sprint.
Lorenz is the first female cyclist to medal for the United States in a Deaflympics. She and teammate Raymonda Yeh are also the first-ever female cyclists to represent the U.S. in the Games, after the Deaflympics expanded cycling to include women for the first time in the 2013 Sofia Games.
Nine women from eight countries made the debut of women’s cycling a successful one, and Lorenz made sure she would be part of that chapter in the history books.
“Three years of cycling practice really paid off for me today,” Lorenz said. “I really wanted to win a medal, and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip past me today. I feel really honored to earn the first-ever bronze medal in women’s road cycling.”
The United States is the only country that sent two cyclists of each gender to the Deaflympics. Yeh, a relative newcomer to cycling, finished 7th in the event.
“I wish I could have trained longer than I did when I got started in cycling 12 weeks ago,” Yeh said. “But, hey, I really enjoyed the cycling sprints today.”
Paul Wood, the other male cyclist representing the U.S., was the defending Deaflympic champion in the 1000m Sprint. However, he had an unlucky draw in the sprints and was upset in the first round by eventual champion Kevin Chazottes of France.
Alisa Viktorovna Budnikayte of Russia won the first-ever gold medal in the women’s 1000m Sprint.