Olympic champion sees rising interest in cycling in this country

Olympic gold medal cyclist Mark Gorski thinks his sport is on the verge of a popular explosion similar to those enjoyed by running in the 1970s and by tennis a decade or so earlier. ``Cycling is a mass interest sport,'' he said on a recent trip to Boston for one of a series of recreational rides he is involved with around the country. ``In participation it's second only to swimming. So we know there's a built-in audience.

``Also, at the competitive level, there's a great deal more opportunity now than there was just a few years ago. Today any young athlete has a chance in cycling to make money, travel, have an exciting lifestyle, and compete in a great sport.

``I'm not saying it will replace the major sports, but I see no reason why it can't reach the level of tennis or running. Twenty years ago when a tennis match was on TV, a lot of people didn't even know the rules.''

The big American success in 1984 (Gorski's gold in the match sprint was one of nine medals won by US riders) has certainly focused more attention on the sport in this country than at any other time.

Now cycling enthusiasts hope for similar increases in the recreational aspect. Thus the American Bike Festival, a series of events in which thousands of people ride 25 miles or so. The first two were in Minneapolis and Boston, with the others scheduled for Los Angeles and Tampa.

``The idea is to try to attract people of all ages and skill levels,'' Gorski explained. ``It's not a race in any sense. The emphasis is on participation.

Of course there's the inevitable competitive spirit among those at the front.

``It can be a stepping stone from riding your 10-speed around the block to becoming a racer,'' Gorski said. ``In fact it was at events like this that I got my start.''

Gorski grew up in Evanston, Ill., played team sports as a boy, and rode his bike for recreation. He began to enjoy individual sports more, however, and eventually gravitated to cycling.

He won several national sprint titles in the late '70s and early '80s, and also began to do well internationally climaxing his rise with the Olympic triumph.

``To come from basically nowhere and wind up winning a gold medal was quite a thrill,'' he says. ``I know it sounds like a clich'e, but I worked hard and anonymously for a long time to get to that spot -- and those are the things you feel at that moment.''

The year since Los Angeles has been exciting, he says, but also filled with a lot more pressure as far as competition goes.

``Before, I could point for certain big events -- hoping to peak for things like the nationals and the worlds,'' he said. ``Now, at literally every event the pressure is on me. They're all out to beat me -- the Olympic champion.

``I feel that. But I think I have had a reasonably successful year. I won several events, and I came in fourth in the worlds.''

The latter event carried more significance than usual this year, since it included many strong Eastern European riders whose countries had boycotted the Olympics -- and indeed it was a trio of East Germans who finished ahead of Gorski.

``That was a little disappointing,'' he said, ``but I knew I was into a lot of other things and wouldn't be able to train quite as fully as I had for the Olympics.''

After the Olympics, Gorski, his wife, Mary, and their 2-year-old son, Alexander, moved to Indianapolis, where Mark trains at the new velodrome while Mary pursues a dance degree at Butler University. The gold medal opened a lot of business doors, too, and Mark is involved in promotional work for a number of companies. He's also busy on the speaking circuit, and did commentary for NBC-TV at the world championships, but he still keeps up with his racing and training as much as possible.

``I'm already looking forward to next year,'' he added. ``The world championships in Colorado will be the first ones in the United States since 1912. That will certainly heighten interest even more over here.''

And what about the 1988 Olympics?

``Four or five years ago if you had asked me that,'' he said, ``I would have told you, `You're crazy!' But now I am definitely planning on that too.''

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