Death of colleague half a world away exacts heavy toll

Non-Olympian Reinhart died in race crash, touched many on team

Cycling

Summer Olympics

September 19, 2000|By SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

BANKSTOWN, Australia - A sudden knock on the door startled Derek Bouchard-Hall awake on the morning of his Olympic debut.

A U.S. Cycling official making the house call had already heard about the horrifying crash that had killed Nicole Reinhart of Oakland, Calif., during a race Sunday in Massachusetts. Cycling officials wanted gently to alert her many friends competing in Australia.

They knew Bouchard-Hall, of Palo Alto, Calif., would search the Internet after rising to learn the results of the BMC Tour of Arlington, where the accident occurred. His Mercury pro team was primed to win, and that would mean a bonus check for the Olympian. But if he signed on, he would learn of his friend's death by the cold words on a computer screen.

"Don't sign on," an official said when the blurry-eyed Bouchard-Hall answered the door.

"Why?" he asked.

"Your race was canceled."

Bouchard-Hall let it go. In a few hours he would ride the biggest race of his life at the Dunc Gray Velodrome in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown. Then he thought about it, and realized it had to be something bad.

It didn't take long to find out what happened. For the Olympic cyclists enjoying an experience of a lifetime in Sydney, Reinhart's death halfway around the world has shattered it all. They competed yesterday with mixed emotions and mixed results.

"It was a challenge to focus on the race," Bouchard-Hall said. "But we did it. There was nothing gained by not racing."

Bouchard-Hall knew Reinhart, 24, because she dated a roommate for more than a year.

Reinhart died in a high-speed crash near the end of a 45-mile road race. Trying to earn $250,000 for sweeping the BMC series - including winning a June race in San Jose - Reinhart lost control of her bike just before making a turn with a lead pack of a dozen riders. She fell headfirst and struck a tree, according to news reports. She died later at a hospital.

As word spread, the U.S. track cycling team reflected on an outgoing, generous woman who seemed to touch everyone in her sport.

"I won't be able to see her smile, hear her laugh," said Mariano Friedick of Brentwood, Calif.

Wearing Reinhart's name on the side of their helmets, Friedick, Bouchard-Hall, Mulkey and Erin Hartwell raced poorly and failed to reach the quarterfinals in team pursuit. Although the riders said the news of Reinhart's death didn't affect their race, they seemed to unravel on the banked wooden track marked by red and blue lines.

If it did anything, the death took the sting out of their 10th-place finish.

"Win or lose, it's not the end of the world," Friedick said. "The Olympics come once every four years. It's a race, that's all it is. It's not your whole life."

Reinhart never made an Olympic team. But since 1991 she had participated in junior and senior national teams competing around the world. She chased medals with the best of them. But she never lost her perspective, friends at the Olympic velodrome said. The woman from Macungie, Pa., was best remembered as the cyclist who gave the national team a lift when it needed one.

Sprint cyclist Tanya Lindenmuth of Trextlertown, Pa., said Reinhart would ask fellow riders, "Want to see my trick?" She'd then perform a back flip like she did as a high school gymnast.

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