Hey Alex Harvey, Let Me Know When You Get Tired of Wearing Spandex in the Winter
I full-time decided on to my quit cycling, hockey andto focusit was a little less than two years later that I was standing on the Olympic podium accepting a silver medal that I had earned that day in the Kilometre Time Trial.
was talking to someone the other day about talent identification in the sport world and was a asked how I got into cycling. I apologize to those reading this who have heard this story before.
Quite simply, I was introduced to the concept of competitive cycling through Harry Curtis (a familiar name to many who were on the Canadian cycling scene in the 1980’s and 1990’s), who just happened to be my high school football coach and Grade Nine drafting teacher.
Harry, or “Mr. Curtis” at that time, recognized that my sport passion in life then was hockey. I played rep hockey in Thunder Bay, Ont., and if there was a football game and hockey practice going on at the same time, I was at the hockey practice.
Harry pulled me aside one day and said, “Curt, I see that you have big plans with your hockey, and I have the prefect way for you to stay in shape for hockey during the summer months. How about you come and try out for the high school cycling team?”
You see, as a member (I think he was president at that time) of the Thunder Bay Cycling Club, Harry wanted to build a competitive intercollegiate cycling program in Thunder Bay.
His timing was perfect. The summer of 1979, just before I entered high school, I raced motocross, but I really wasn’t very good. Having sold my motocross bike at the end of that summer, I was looking for another summer hobby – perhaps one that was a little safer and cheaper than motorcycles. I thought (obviously incorrectly) that bicycle racing would be perfect.
So I showed up to Hammarskjold High School’s first cycling-team training day in a pair of gym shorts, some cut off motocross gloves, a re-purposed hockey helmet and a borrowed (from my future brother-inlaw) CCM Targa that was two sizes too big for me. That year, I won the City Championship. And the rest, as they say, is history.
My desire to retell this story is to emphasize the point that cycling is the perfect home for second-sport athletes. There is no doubt that high-performance sport across the board has become more sophisticated, but I do believe in the need to unearth prospective talent in the most creative of ways.
I have never sat down with Harry to discover whether his intention for me to get involved in cycling was for me to one day show up on an Olympic podium – although he was in the infield of the 7-Eleven Olympic Velodrome in 1984 when I won my first Olympic medal. I feel pretty certain that it wasn’t; his desire was to share a sport that he loved very much (along with football and wrestling) with someone in whom he saw potential. He also recognized the selling feature of his sport and the benefit of that feature to his target consumer (me).
I did use cycling to stay in shape for my hockey. I would show up at my end of summer pre-season hockey camps skating circles around my teammates – funny tan lines and all. In the 1982 Ontario Hockey League Draft, I was picked 144th overall by the London Knights. In some sort of twisted irony, I tried out for the Knights at the same arena that now houses the Forest City Velodrome. It was at that training camp that I decided to quit hockey to focus full-time on my cycling, and it was a little less than two years later that I was standing on the Olympic podium accepting a silver medal that I had earned that day in the Kilometre Time Trial.
We have a long list of athletes who have found cycling after varying levels of success in their “original” sport and have gone on to great success. The fact of the matter is that that list may be too long to print here. The great thing about cycling is that from a technical standpoint, it is not very complicated to pick up on and the various capacities an athlete develops can be easily adapted to cycling.
Cycling in Canada needs to take a page from the Bobsleigh Canada playbook and actively allow high-performance athletes from other sports know that we are open for business. Then we will just need to find a way to fund it all. That’s another conversation.
Curt Harnett at the 7-Eleven Olympic Velodrome in 1984 where he won silver in the Kilo, his first Olympic medal.