Olympic Day at KPCC: Pin trading, film viewing, and Olympic track cycling

This event took place on:
Monday, June 23, 6 - 9pm
Location
Olympic Day at KPCC

Jeanette Marantos/ KPCC

Olympic Day Olympians pose for photos at the end of the evening. Top row, from left, David Brinton, Ron Skarin, Giddeon Massie, John Naber. Bottom row, from left, Tamara Christopherson, Sky Christopherson, Adam Laurent and Adam Duvendeck. All are Olympic track cyclists except Naber, an Olympic swimmer, and Tamara Christopherson, an Olympic kayaker.

KPCC’s annual Olympics Day celebration was just a night of ordinary people mingling with other “ordinary people” — former Olympians who, for just a few moments, managed to be gods.

“If you watch the Olympics, it’s generally just ordinary boys and girls, with help from Mom and Dad, who find a way to be the best in the world at what they chose to do, and their ordinariness is what makes those games so inspiring,” said John Naber, the event organizer and four-time gold medalist in swimming at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Olympic track cyclist Giddeon Massie, who competed in the 2004 and 2008 games, grew up near the professional cycling center in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania and started training in its velodrome at an early age. He was good at other sports as well, he said, but he set his sights on cycling because “the Olympics were an aspiration to me, and cycling was my clearest path to the Olympics.”

“We are not former Olympians, we are Olympians, because once you go to the Olympics, you have that for the rest of the your life,” 1988 Olympic cyclist David Brinton told the full auditorium. “This was my big dream, from the time I was 9 years old. I finally went when I was 21, but it was a 12-year journey, and in my time there were no private coaches. We just had to figure it out for ourselves.”

“I didn’t win a medal in the Olympics, but look at this,” said 1976 Olympic track cyclist Ron Skarin, pulling off a cap studded with Olympic pins. “These are my medals, and I’m proud of each one of them, because each one represents a friend that I met.”

This fifth annual Olympic Day celebration at KPCC, the honored Olympians were cyclists. They were at the Forum to talk about their experience and watch a new, as-yet unreleased documentary, Personal Gold, about the underfunded, underdog 2012 Olympics US Women's Pursuit Cycling team that managed to win a silver medal at the London Olympics, the first for a U.S. women's cycling team in 20 years

The four women, Dotsie Bausch, Jennie  Reed, Sarah Hammer and Lauren Tamayo, champion individual cyclists who had never worked together before, trained for three months in Mallorca, Spain — because it was much cheaper than Los Angeles — and relied on volunteers and their husbands for everything from bike maintenance and training to cooking and doing the wash.

Naber arranged a private showing of the film, directed by Olympic kayaker Tamara Christopherson, and co-produced by her husband, Sky Christopherson and Adam Laurent, both Olympic cyclists. The three volunteered to help the team train for the 2012 Olympic team pursuit race using a new “big data” approach to tailor the right training regime to each athlete. They joined Naber on the stage to answer questions after the film was over. The film is scheduled for general release in 2015, Sky Christopherson said.

Track cycling is one of the most mysterious and alluring sports in the Olympics. Unlike road racers, track cyclists race in an oval-shaped velodrome, where the lanes rise up steeply to about 45 degrees. They use use gearless, brakeless bikes that can’t coast, and try to follow the bike in front of them with just  a 2-to-5-inch gap between the tires. Oh, and they do all this with their feet clamped onto the pedals, traveling at speeds of about 35 miles per hour.

Highlights from the Olympic cyclers's discussion:

On the differences between a track bike and a road bike

Track cyclists will sometimes balance their bikes without moving, trying to jockey for a better position in a race, said 2004 and 2008 Olympics track cyclist Adam Duvendeck. “We have to draw for a position prior to an event, which determines your start position. If you draw number one, but prefer to ride in the back, you have to lead for at least half a lap. Then you can come to a complete stop with the goal of getting to the back, and hope your competitor can’t balance as long as you can. It’s most common in match sprints, a kind of cat and mouse game.”

On the strategy of being a sprinter on a track bike, and not moving at all

Track cyclists will sometimes balance their bikes without moving, trying to jockey for a better position in a race, said 2004 and 2008 Olympics track cyclist Adam Duvendeck. “We have to draw for a position prior to an event, which determines your start position. If you draw number one, but prefer to ride in the back, you have to lead for at least half a lap. Then you can come to a complete stop with the goal of getting to the back, and hope your competitor can’t balance as long as you can. It’s most common in match sprints, a kind of cat and mouse game.”

So why do track sprinters want to be in the back?

Because they can draft behind the leading rider, who cuts the air resistance and lets them keep up their speed with less effort. The reduction in air resistance can be huge—up to 30 percent, said Brinton, but for that to happen, the rider has to be just 2 to 5 inches behind the leading bike. “If you’re within 8 inches, you might get a 20 percent draft, but if you go back half a bike length, it drops down to a 5 to 8 percent draft so it’s really important to put your wheel right on the tail of the guy...at a speed of about 35 mph.”

Skarin noted that drafting made it possible for a cyclist to achieve a world record of over 150 miles per hour. The bike wasn’t towed, he said; it was just behind a special car with a large windshield that blocked the air resistance. “That just emphasizes the value of learning how to draft. To this day I cannot ride behind someone without drafting. It drives my wife crazy, because she thinks I’m tailgating, and of course, I drive that way too.”

How do you learn how to follow another bike so closely?

“You hit the wheel in front of you, crash a few times and then figure out that’s not what you want to do,” Brinton said, laughing. “There’s no other way.”

So isn’t track racing insanely dangerous?

Not really, the cyclists said, despite a recent fatality at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Cyclists who ride in a velodrome have to pass a training before they take the track, and the fact that they’re riding in the same direction, in marked lanes, actually makes things safer, Duvendeck said. “Riding on a track is much safer than riding on a road because you take away the outside elements—cars, road conditions, people and things traveling in different directions. Cyclists who ride on a track become very good at biking. They don’t have brakes to make quick speed variances so they become very quick bike handlers, able to move around things at a high rate of speed. Track deaths are very few and far between, whereas you hear about fatalities on the road quite often.”

— Jeanette Marantos 

 


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