Audrey McElmury

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Audrey McElmury
Personal information
Full name Audrey McElmury, nee Phleger
Born ( 1943-01-24)January 24, 1943
Northampton, Massachusetts, United States of America
Died March 26, 2013(2013-03-26) (aged 69)[1]
Team information
Discipline Road & Track
Role Rider
Major wins
1969 UCI Road World Championships
1969 USA National Omnium Championship
1970 USA National Pursuit Championship
1970 USA National Road Championship
1970 - USA National hour record, 24.8 miles

Audrey McElmury (b. Audrey Phleger, January 24, 1943 Northampton, Massachusetts, USA, died March 26, 2013 Bozeman, Montana, USA) was the first American to win the world road cycling championship. She won in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1969, having fallen and remounted her bike. Hers was the United States' first world cycling championship since Frank Kramer won the professional sprint race in 1912 and the first ever in road cycling.[1][2]


Audrey McElmury grew up in La Jolla, California, where her first sport was horse jumping, followed by surfing. She began cycling after breaking her leg after falling from a skate board in 1960.[3] She won the Californian cycling championship in 1964, riding on velodromes because there was no other racing for women.[2] She trained with men on the road, getting up at 4.30am for the first of two daily rides. She said the regime ended her marriage.[2] She won the national pursuit title and the first national road championship in 1966.[4]

Cycling career[edit]

McElmury rode the world championship in Rome in 1968 and finished fifth in a race that ended in a sprint. She was picked again for the championship in Czechoslovakia the following year. The American cycling federation did not have the money to pay all the fares for the three women.[2] It cost her $10,000 with fares, lodging and meals.[4] Writers Alice Kovler and James McCullagh said: "The argument against funding women was based essentially on the fact that there were so few of them competing, and the dues paid by these [to the national federation] amounted to very little.[5]

The races were held on the anniversary of the Soviet Union's occupation of the country after the Prague Spring. The cycling historian Peter Nye wrote:

Tanks were everywhere, up and down every street, and soldiers were armed with machine guns. The Czechs were anti-communist and pro-American.; they cheered the U.S. riders wildly in the races and booed the Russians. When the Russians won, the Czechs even walked out of the medal ceremonies.[2]

McElmury rode both track and road. She came seventh in the 3,000m pursuit race, then later rode the 62 km road race. She said:

McElmury regained the field on the last lap and then went clear again on the hill. She finished 1m 10s ahead of a British rider, Bernadette Swinnerton. Her victory was so unexpected that the award ceremony was delayed half an hour while officials searched for a recording of the American national anthem.[6][7]

When McElmury returned to the USA, a local television reporter wanted to know less about her world championship than the anniversary of the Russian invasion.[2] Other coverage was also scant. In France, Miroir du Cyclisme predicted a rise in the prominence of American women cyclists with a cartoon that changed the graffiti "US go home!" to "US go femme!"[2]

James McCullagh wrote:

Not surprisingly, she received more attention in Europe than she did in America. Europeans understood and appreciated her ride. Accordingly, she was immediately engaged by the Italian team, to ride for them and eventually coach them. Returning to this country [USA], McElmury still found it difficult to obtain travel expenses even though she was a strong enough rider to hold her own on the criterium circuit with the best American men, usually finishing in the top ten.[5]

In 1969 she won the national omnium championship, in 1970 the pursuit and road championships. She set the national hour record, 24.8 miles at the Encino velodrome in California[3] and held it from 1969 to 1990.[4] McElmury retired from cycling after a crash in 1974 and took up running. She and husband Michael Levonas continued to coach cyclists and triathletes in San Diego until they left the area, retiring in West Yellowstone, Montana.

Personal life[edit]

McElmury married two cyclists, first Scott McElmury whom she met in 1958, when she was 15,[3] and, in 1971, former Pan Am team member and multiple title champion Michael Levonas.[6] She obtained a degree in zoology from the University of California in San Diego and had a son, Ian, born in 1967.

Toward the end of her cycling career, McElmury and Levonas obtained business degrees at the University of Denver in hotel and restaurant management, Audrey graduating number one in her class. The two then traveled through western states, Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, working in the food service industry. They retired in 1996 to West Yellowstone, Montana.[4] They wrote a book, Bicycle Training for Triathletes *and Others [8] based on their coaching. Audrey is featured in a chapter devoted to her in the track cycling reference "NO BRAKES! Bicycle Track Racing in the United States" [9] published in 1996.

McElmury was inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1989. Her World Champion 1969 Berry bicycle is on loan to the Hall of Champions in San Diego, California.


  1. ^ a b Tim Maloney (2013-04-21). "FEATURES: RACY LANGUAGE: IN MEMORIUM - AMERICA'S FIRST WOMEN'S WORLD CHAMP". Archived from the original on 2013-12-21. Retrieved 2013-05-02. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Nye, Peter (1988), Hearts of Lions, Norton, USA
  3. ^ a b c Sports Illustrated, November 24, 1969, What Makes Audrey Pedal? Dan Levin. - Profile of Audrey McElmury[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ a b c d Pro-Cycling Women - Profile of Audrey McElmury Archived November 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ a b McCullagh, James, ed. (1976), American Bicycle Racing, Rodale Press, USA
  6. ^ a b Hickok Sports - Profile of Audrey McElmury
  7. ^ New York Times, May 25, 1997, A Museum for Cyclists Who Moved Beyond Training Wheels by Steve Strunsky
  8. ^ McElmury, Audrey, and Levonas, Michael, (1983, 1984) Bicycle Training for Triathletes *and Others", Iris Press, USA
  9. ^ Sutherland, Sandra Wright (1996) NO BRAKES! Bicycle Track Racing in the United States, Iris Press, USA

Sutherland, Sandra Wright (2016) Rainbow Quest: The Adventurous Life of Audrey McElmury, America's First World Road Cycling Champion, Iris Press, USA