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Koerber rides into USA's history books

Irina Kalentieva (Russia), centre, with gold and the rainbow jersey of XC World Champ

Irina Kalentieva (Russia), centre, with gold and the rainbow jersey of XC World Champ (Image credit: Tour of Japan)

Willow Koerber gained herself a unique place in the mountain biking history books today. She is the first woman from the USA to take a World Championships medal since Alison Dunlap won the 2001 edition in Durango, USA.

"Oh, I'm excited, I didn't even realise," she said. "I'm just really happy to be an inspiration. If I can do it then other people can, and I want to show people that."

Koerber finished third behind Russian Irina Kalentieva and Norwegian Lene Byberg.

Koerber rode a fantastic race aboard her 29er, the first time a rider has taking a medal on such a bike. She looked like a potential gold medal winner for much of the race, until Kalentieva's charge from mid-field turned the race on its head.

"'What's going on? None of us can ride our bikes!'", Koerber said she thought at the start. "Everyone seemed to be crashing into each other and falling over.

"I managed to escape any big crash or problem with my bike. I just stayed calm, because in the past I have panicked numerous times and you just waste a bunch of energy.

"I won the last race in the US Cup in New York three weeks ago, so that gave me a lot of confidence, and then I really didn't train too much. I just did a bunch of short fun things, so I would be rested and really ready to race today."

Koerber will not take part in the remaining two World Cup rounds held later this month in Europe. Instead, Koerber is looking ahead to 2010 where she's hoping to continue her outstanding progress from this season.

Prior to Dunlap's victory on home soil, Ruthie Mathis was the last woman from the USA to medal was in Australia in 1996. Renowned trail designer Glen Jacobs designed both the 1996 Cairns course and today's in Canberra.