'Tis education forms the common mind: Just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined.
—ALEXANDER POPE'S WORDS, OUR TWIGG
She seems relaxed, breathing evenly; there's nothing here to get her frazzled. The conversation has been about bicycle racing in general, and now the radio newsman, smiling confidently, asks his final, big question, thrusting the microphone under the chin of Rebecca Twigg. In responding to this query, most world-class athletes tend to prattle on, with their brains in neutral—it's a trained response with them. And here we go:
RADIO MAN: "Well, now, tell us, what are some of the things you must now do to prepare for those all-important 1984 Olympic Games?"
TWIGG: "Try not to crash."
And that's it. End of interview. The response is short, but that's exactly the way this Twigg is bent. She's 20 years old, 5'7" and 125 pounds. She's one Twigg who is willowy—and that's absolutely the last play on her name, promise. But most important, she's so totally submerged in what she's doing that her brisk answer to the question on that recent radio interview seemed perfectly sensible to her. When it got a laugh, she looked faintly puzzled. What'd I say? After all, when one sets out to become the best woman bike racer in the U.S. and the world, not crashing seems like a pretty terrific idea.
"Well, Rebecca can be deceptive that way," says Edmund R. Burke, the technical director of the U.S. Cycling Federation. "She's so fully locked in on what she's up to that sometimes she just seems laid back." Burke is a Ph.D., a sports physiologist who specializes in cycling and, perhaps unwisely, has revealed a flair for administration. He thus has ended up running the U.S. cycling team. "She's really very intelligent, in addition to being very strong," he says. "Speaking as a physiologist, I would say that Rebecca's a mesomorph who's maturing."
Oh, really? What Twigg also is, at this moment, is the women's world individual pursuit champion. She won that title dramatically in England last year, the first American to do so, and she was also the U.S. pursuit and time-trial champ. Not to mention the U.S. federation's 1982 female Rider of the Year. And now, despite being primarily a pursuit, or track, specialist, she's a hot prospect to become one of the final lonely three who'll make up the U.S. team in the first-ever women's Olympic cycling event—a 50-or 70-km road race—at the L.A. Games. All of which amounts to quite a curriculum vitae, but there's one thing more: Twigg is also something of a genius. At 14, she decided to skip high school and go directly to college. She's now just a few credit hours short of a degree in biology at the University of Washington. But she tends to play that down.
"Actually, nobody is certain how high my IQ is, or even if it really is high. We've never tested it," Twigg says. "I think the secret is that I'm a very hard worker who likes school. As for the college degree..." she runs her hands through her hair and stares off dreamily into some middle distance "...it will come someday in 1985, after the competitive pressure is off. In the meantime, I worry about not using my brain enough. What if...what if I became an illiterate between now and the Olympics?"
This mild concern is being expressed in Room 217 of a rickety old dormitory, a onetime Army barracks, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where Twigg is a permanent athlete-in-residence. No matter what the location, dorm rooms never really change: This one smells faintly of sweaty workout clothes turned inside out to dry over the backs of chairs, with an occasional whiff of the far too sweet perfume favored by very young women. At the moment Twigg is slouched on her bed wearing layers of mismatched warmups. She shares the room with Peggy Maas, 23, another bike racer, and there's not a frivolous touch in sight. In this room, where one might expect to see Richard Gere pinups, there are bike-racing posters taped to the walls. On the floor beside Twigg's bed, in addition to a limp sock or two, is a copy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy.
Outside the window, down across the new synthetic surface running track and past the long-jump practice pits, is the federation's national office. Beyond that lies the perfect mountain world, much of it at 6,000 feet in crisp air that one can actually see through, in which to train for most any kind of cycling competition. This austere room and those demanding mountains are pretty much it for Twigg when she's not off at some meet or another. She makes 60 to 80 races a year, but otherwise she can be found charging through the Colorado hills or holed up in her stark, sweaty digs.