January 19/00 6:23 am - Linda Jackson Retires
Posted by Editor on 01/19/00
Linda Jackson Retires
Yesterday, without any fanfare, Linda Jackson retired. Canada's top female road racer of the last 5 years has left the sport that meant so much to her that she gave up a $300,000 US per year job for something that means even more - the chance to have a child. Approaching 42, Jackson felt that she could not afford to wait any longer.
"I talked to my doctor, and she put the fear of god into me. I struggled with it all winter, I was training really hard and I really wanted to take a run at the Olympics, but it came down to a decision for a medal versus a decision that will be with me for life." said Jackson when I spoke with her earlier this afternoon at her home in Los Altos Hills, California. She was very clear that not having a team for the coming season played no part in the decision. "I had a couple of options (in teams), but no, that had nothing to do with it."
I was probably the first journalist to actually interview Linda, back in 1992 at the Canadian Road Nationals, when this tall, skinny and completely unknown woman showed up at one of the toughest courses in recent memory and finished 3rd. She was obviously 5-10 years older than the rest of the field, didn't know anyone, had no idea of tactics, but could climb with the best of them. Afterwards, I interviewed her, and she stated "I'm going to go to the Olympics".
On the face of it, the statement was ludicrous. Canada was a powerhouse in womens cycling - Alison Sydor, Sara Neil, Kelly Ann Way, Maria Hawkins, Denise Kelly, Clara Hughes, Sue Palmer, Jill Smith... The list was enormous, and the only rider similar to Jackson in age was Edie Fisher, who had been racing at a high level for years, but was still having a struggle to get on national team projects.
However, Jackson was determined, and changed the viewpoint of national team selectors and coaches towards older riders, making the 1996 Olympic team as one of the favourites. Her Olympic experience was somewhat disappointing, with a crash early in the road race knocking her out with an arm injury. She came back to finish 9th in the time trial, and took a Bronze medal at the World Championships in Switzerland later that fall.
"What can I say", says Pierre Hutsebaut, Director of National Racing Programs at the CCA. "Linda was the first one to start late and be successful. She opened the door to other women in their 30s. After her, others started saying 'Why not me?' ". Hutsebaut went on to say "Linda sent a message to other women - No, it's not too late. Her legacy is more than we realize." Jackson remembers the struggle to get accepted to the national team. "I called Denise Kelly in tears during the winter (of '93) because I had been left off the team in favour of a younger rider." However, that rider then left cycling, and Jackson got her chance. Said Hutsebaut: "I gave her a chance, and she never disappointed me."
When asked to pick out highlights from Jackson's career, Hutsebaut could only point to her 1997 season. "She was on the podium in every big race - Tour de l'Aude, Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Hewlett Packard. It was an amazing year, and it is impossible to pick out one event more than another. If her rival (Italian racer) Luperini had not been around she would have won everything."
Jackson herself also has difficulty choosing a single 'best' performance. "I feel proudest about my mountain stage results; being able to climb there with the best, to continue to dig deeper and deeper. I remember in '94, at my first major national team project, riding Alpe d'Huez. First there was a group, then down to 5 riders, and then finishing second... I also feel good about taking the pink jersey from Luperini in the '98 Giro. I couldn't keep it [laughs], but I did take it away from her." Regarding the recent suspension levied against Luperini for drug use, Jackson started to comment and then hesitated and said, "No, I don't want to get involved in that."
Jackson will also be remembered for her intensity, which sometimes caused tension within the national team, and her spectacular crashes. It was a rare stage race that didn't see her go down at least once, and she always seemed to have scars or bandages. I remember chatting with Linda at the Champions of Cycling Gala in Victoria in 1997, when she was hobbling around with a huge bruise on her hip after crashing while skiing a week earlier. However, crashes just seemed to make her go harder, as witness her incredible stage victory at Galena in the HP Classic last year.
So, where does Linda Jackson go now? Well, apart from planning for a family with her partner Kevin Deierling, she is scheduled to go back to investment banking, as the Chief Financial Officer for an internet company. However, cycling is still in her blood.
"Will I get involved in cycling again? Maybe in the future; it would be too painful now. But commentary, yes, I'd like to do that. The Olympics, the Worlds... I'd LOVE to do the commentary on the women's race in Hamilton in 2003! (The site of one of her national road titles). I will keep riding, training, but not as hard for now..." Maybe we should be prepared for another comeback in 5 years time.