Congrats Adam, You Make Me (and the US) Proud!
After recently returing from the US, I took advantage of the local Olympic coverage to make a note of when the Mountain Biking Race would be held.... "August 24th, 2008, NBC"
"Sweet, I'll just watch it live online while it unfolds!" (now that I'm in CZ, we are only 6 hours difference from Beijing versus 12 hours for Americans to watch it live. Suddenly I see on Yahoo that states,
Absalon defends his gold in men's mountain biking
I clicked on the link only to discover that the race was TODAY (or while I was is Management Informations Systems class). Errrrrrrrrrrrrr hhhhhherrrrrrhhheerhhr!
To describe WHY I placed sooo many "r's" and "errr's" in the last phrase, I will give you a bit of history.
Back in 1994, I was returning from a hockey game (I was a hockey player for 14-or-so years) and we stopped at McDonald's for a post-game feast. The line was long so I picked up the newspaper:
It read, "Sunday River [local ski resort] to offer lift-service mountain biking"
I have been downhill skiing since I was 3 and I had a friend who was crazy-into biking and just bought a mountain bike for $1500 ($1400 more than my max price). Seeing the "rentals available" in the ad, I ripped it out, threw down a few Chicked Nuggets and called him the next day.
Heading down a ski mountain on expert singletrack is not recommended for your first mountain bike ride from what I've heard... but after crashing 8 times in the first 200 yards, I LOVED IT! I legitimately sucked at something but still had fun... sign me up!
I cut some trails behind the house, got a bike, entered a few races, and the rest was history.
On the way, during a mundane high-school Art class, I was discussing my new sport with one of my hockey buddies describing how I had just done my first "major" race and entered into the 'Sport' category which was a level higher than the Beginners. Just then my art teacher said, "you know, my son is getting into mountain biking. He's just a beginner but he won a race last weekend. He'll be going to race 'XYZ' this weekend." I went to the race. We met and although he was a few years younger, we got to be good friends, meeting each week at some random rustic location in Maine for a race where if we won, we could bring home luxurious treasures such as a waterbottle or t-shirt... but if the race was 'big time' we could win a tire or something cool like that.
I raced on a 1995 GT Pentara while my new friend Adam had just gotten a new chrome Giant. We were pretty cool.
Both of us won, Adam moving up more quickly than I, although most of the time we were in differnt age classes, but we still hung out before and after the races.
Eventually, Adam had some VERY good finishes and got attention from the US Olympic Committee when he won a US Junior championship while he was in high school and I was in college (no longer a junior, but at this time, he was faster than me).
Adam joined the US Olympic Development Team, "DEVO" which was very high-profile at the time since it allowed young kids to go head-to-head against the likes of Travis Brown and Ned Overend. We still met at big races as I began to work my way up the mountain biking hierarchy (although much more slowly) and enjoyed spending time together making numerous Maine jokes while we waited for results amidst a national crowd of elite mountain bikers.
By the time I had gotten to the Expert and Semi-Pro level of Mountain Bike Racing, Adam had already won a National Championship or two... or three in the Junior and Espoir (under 24 or so, I forget now).
I joined up on the best collegiate mountain bike team on the East Coast and we won an East Coast Championship in my first year. We continued to win and eventually Adam joined that ackward age group known as 'college students'. Debating whether to pursue a career in mountain biking or try his hand at college life, Adam, to his credit, gave it the 'ol college try. That year, we got in touch and met during Thanksgiving Break at my house for some riding. There is a large slick-granite mountain near my house accessible by singletrack and fireroads. We decided to do that plus the 2+ miles of singletrack that I had built behind my house.
I distinctly remember climbing the face of the mountain (24-27% grade) [that means 'wicked steep' to you non-cyclin' types] and he slowly started pulling away from me... I was so frustrated when he got to the top (it's a 4 or 5 minute climb), 15 or so seconds before me. We had a good time though. He is a super guy, very easy-going and not "full of himself" like some cyclists or athletes are with half his talent.
We met again later in a race with a long uphill section and sketchy descents. Adam was in the Pro category but I was still in the Semi-Pro/Expert category so we didn't depart at the same time. I hammered up the hill as hard as I could go each lap and at one point I saw a fan with a stopwatch who was timing people...
"That's one of the fastest times up this section!" he said. Knowing Adam was in the race, that meant something. I began my to tackle my weakness... sketchy New England singletrack descents. After 10 minutes or so I heard someone behind me. Knowing the people in the race (maybe a few hundred) and the start times of the Pro's, I knew it was Adam.
We exchanged "Hey man"'s and I let him by since I knew I could benefit from his direction during the upcoming singletrack downhill. I did my best to say with him but it almost seemed like he was gone in an instant!
"Was I that bad?"
"How come I can't ride faster down that? I know I tried"
Adam won the Pro race and I won the Semi-Pro/Expert race by 11 minutes. (I didn't know I was so far ahead... otherwise I would have... I don't know... picked up chicks along the way to victory... errr... chicks think cyclists are dorks, and they are right. Well, I could have at least gotten a nice water or something.
Fast forward several years later and I'm reading a synopsis of Adam's chances in Beijing for 2008. His coach, a former pro, was interviewed on the front of the biggest state-wide newspaper and the quote that stood out in my mind was:
By 2008, I had been disillusioned enough by both mountain and later road biking that I sought out a [gasp], "real job". I no longer race or officially train but I have started to ride more [in somepart, thanks to my efforts to keeping up with the crazy mileage guzzlers on BikeJournal.com!]. But this statement that confirmed that no one in the world could hold his wheel on a downhill descent, including me!, put me at ease and let me enjoy the true talent that Adam has developed and strengthened over the years.
You may be thinking, "Cross-Country MTB'ers are lame, DH guys have way more skill". Well acutally, I remember once when we had a big XC race on Sunday morning at a remote location in the mountains so we all arrived on Saturday. Adam just decided he would enter the Downhill race, just for fun you know. Somehow, his points in XC, or some other loophole, allowed him to race in the professional downhill category. He went head-to-head against some of New England's to professional downhillers who had crazy downhill specific bikes that sucked up rocks and bumps like a tour bus. Adam just rode a plain old bike (or maybe someone felt sorry for him and lent him a dual-suspension bike for a run down the mountain).
Adam ended up beating every downhill cyclist in all of New England and New York just because he thought he would "try it". Never did he brag about it or say how awesome he is to win National Championships or downhill races simply by shear skill... he just talks to you with amazement as if you had won the race as well.
Never in all my years of sports have I ever met such a well-rounded athlete who keeps things in perspective, doesn't overinflate his accomplishments, and is well spoken about his future and in front of the media.
If there is a true, clean, good-hearted athlete that you want to route for but can't seem to find in ... emmm, say the last 8 Olympics, I don't think you'd be disappointed in routing for Adam. Based on his performance on the bike and his handling with life and media, I know he will excel in life... as an MBA student, he'd be one of my first choices when going into a corporate venture... you just can't teach that kind of work ethic and poise.
Congrats on a great ride Adam, lets hook up back at SkiRack, Waldo, or geez, even Eaton some day.