Olympics – Yolo BedTime
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The following article is from the August 2016 issue of VeloNews.
Certainly there was no shortage of great cycling achievements at the 1984 Olympic Games. The US brought a lot of gold – men and women, road and track. And none of them belonged to Nelson Vails. He won silver in the sprint, defeated by his American compatriot Mark Gorski.
But Vails was the name that stuck, the story that popped out – a feel-good narrative that Olympic spokespeople could rely on for a bit of extra-human interest.
In an era of hairnet helmets, he had a bright red hard-shell airbrush with the New York City skyline. He was the boy who learned to ride in Harlem, the bike courier who was picked from the streets of Manhattan, the guy who only went to the Olympics because the Soviet boycott opened an extra track slot for every nation. And he was the first African American cyclist to ever win a medal in the Olympics.
“I didn’t really have a sense of how big it was until the Olympics were over,” he says. “Like when I got a message from the President of Columbia Pictures.” (He made a cameo in the Kevin Bacon movie “Quicksilver” and was also a consultant.)
While Vails had a story that resonated outside cycling circles, he wasn’t the only American track star from 1984. Team USA won gold in the individual pursuit, thanks to American cycling legend Steve Hegg who added silver in the team pursuit. Hegg would embark on a successful road career that would include four US national titles – three in the time trial and the 1994 national road racing championship.
Gorski, who has had a successful business career since retiring from cycling, also caused a stir with his bold presentation before the gold medal race.
“Nelson and I were sitting next to each other in the press room and a journalist from Europe asked what we thought,” recalls Gorski. Nelson said something like, ‘I made my dream come true. Whatever happens, I’m excited. ‘Then the reporter turned to me. My answer was, “I didn’t come here to get the silver medal. If I don’t win gold, I don’t even want the silver medal. ‘
“I don’t want to say that the race ended right there, but Nelson may have been happy to some extent that he had just reached the finals. That doesn’t mean he didn’t tear his heart out, but it was an unfinished business for me until I won gold. “
1984 US Olympic Games medals from American riders
ALEXI GREWAL (men’s road race); CONNIE CARPENTER-PHINNEY (street races for women); STEVE HEGG (individual pursuit of men); MARK GORSKI (men’s sprint)
REBECCA TWIGG (street race for women); DAVID GRYLLS, STEVE HEGG, PAT MCDONOUGH, LEONARD NITZ, BRENT EMERY (men’s team pursuit); NELSON VAILS (Men’s Sprint)
RON KIEFEL, ROY KNICKMAN, DAVIS PHINNEY, ANDREW WEAVER (men’s team time trial); LEONARD NITZ (individual persecution of men)