VOULIAGMENI, Greece - As the Swiss coaches exploded into celebration behind her, American cyclist Christine Thorburn flashed a half-hearted smile.She knew.
The Olympic bronze medal in the women's cycling time trial had been lifted from her neck on Wednesday - by the last rider on the course.
Defending champion Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel of the Netherlands won in 31 minutes, 11.53 seconds at the Vouliagmeni Olympic Center. American Dede Demet-Barry grabbed silver and Switzerland's Karin Thuerig edged Thorburn for third by 19.93 seconds.
``It was a day of mixed emotions for me,'' said Thorburn, who grew up in Davenport, Iowa. ``I'm happy for Dede, but it's always hard to be fourth. It's almost better to be further out.''
The fractured-but-mending U.S. women's team entered the road race last weekend amid controversy after Boise, Idaho, rider Kristin Armstrong was excluded from the two-person time trial team in favor of Thorburn.
Armstrong planned to appeal to an arbitrator but dropped the protest before the road race.
``To be honest, that was really, really a stressful time for everybody,'' U.S. coach Jim Miller said. ``It wasn't easy.''
Miller moved the team to Vouliagmeni two days before the time trial to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Olympic Village. Armstrong attended the race on Wednesday.
The team regained some harmony after working well together in Sunday's road race, Miller said, with all finishing in the top 16.
``That went a long way for repairing some relationships,'' he said.
Thorburn and Armstrong were caught in the middle of USA Cycling's decision on how to fill the final spot.
Miller said Thorburn, a California doctor and Grinnell College graduate, maintained her focus.
``Fourth place at the Olympics isn't easy,'' Miller said. ``You have to be pretty focused and squared away to ride to fourth place.''
Thorburn moved up four spots after being in eighth at the halfway point of the event, which puts individual riders on the course at intervals for a race against the clock.
``Time-trialing is a fine line between going your hardest and being over-cooked,'' Thorburn said.
Van Moorsel was uncertain about whether she would race after a serious wreck during the road race. But the Dutch rider was able to compete and pushed Thorburn out of the medal picture.
Finding peace in a near-medal performance will be tough for Thorburn, Miller said.
``Fourth place is the worst place to be (at the Olympics), because you're right there - and that will be hard,'' he said. ``But fourth place was a great ride.''