The coolest five-year-old in America, Tyler Nothstein, was
wandering around a USA Cycling brunch in Sydney, showing off an
autographed newspaper photo of him and his famous daddy, Marty.
But the signature was not his father's; it said, rather, TYLER.
At least that was what the block letters vaguely resembled,
certainly nothing Mrs. Minich can't fix now that Tyler is back in
her kindergarten class at Weisenberg Elementary near the
Nothsteins' home in New Tripoli, a country town tucked away in
northeastern Pennsylvania. Tyler has so much to tell his
classmates: He collected Olympic pins, saw the Botanic Gardens,
ate in a restaurant that looked out on the Opera House. Then he
did something not listed in any guidebook to Australia: He took a
surprise bicycle ride with his daddy around the Olympic velodrome
as 6,000 people cheered. This could be the mother of all
"The gold medal," Marty said as Tyler fidgeted on his lap last
Friday. "You can bring the gold medal to school."
Tyler had seen his daddy win championships before. But when Marty
plucked Tyler out of the stands, he wanted to make sure the boy
knew that this gold medal was special. Marty had come to Sydney
not to march in the opening ceremonies or to make friends from
faraway lands at the Olympic Village. He had come to win the
match sprint, to win it convincingly, to prove he is the fastest
man on wheels. If this unfiltered arrogance made him the
difficult child of the Olympic family, tough.
For four years, ever since a strong and sly German named Jens
Fiedler had nipped him for gold in Atlanta, Nothstein had
plotted. Every mile he rode and every ounce he lifted were
pointed to this moment. He lost 12 pounds. He changed the
contours of his body. He trained voraciously. The blond moppet
who clung to his neck with one hand and waved to the smitten
crowd with the other was the one who needed to understand the
significance of it all: This was why Daddy sometimes had to go
away and leave you and your little sister, Devon; why he's
staying in an apartment in Sydney while you, Devon, Mommy and
Nana are staying in a hotel.
Nothstein, the first U.S. track cycling gold medalist in a
nonboycotted Olympics since 1904, held up the medal as he slowly
pedaled. "It doesn't get any better than this, Tyler," Marty said
over the wall of sound.
"I know," said the coolest five-year-old in America.
You dole out your life story to your children a little at a time,
no more than they can handle in one sitting. Maybe someday after
supper, when Tyler is old enough to write in connected letters,
Marty will tell him about the match sprint semifinal back in
2000: It was a dandy. The four cyclists--Nothstein, Fiedler and a
pair of Frenchmen named Florian Rousseau and Laurent Gane--had
combined for 14 Olympic or world titles; it was like a
Duke-Kansas-North Carolina-Kentucky Final Four banked at 42
degrees. Fiedler was the two-time Olympic champ, but Nothstein's
coach, Gil Hatton, had been telling him all day that he was the
fastest and strongest cyclist in the world, and Nothstein
believed him. The 250-meter oval had been a front-runner's track
all week, but Nothstein hung back at Fiedler's shoulder and then
reeled him in like a trout, pumping those 30-inch thighs--the gams
of the XXVII Olympiad--and winning the best-of-three semifinal in
two straight races.
Rousseau never had a chance in the final either. Nothstein
whipped him in two straight too, turning to peek with 50 meters
left in the second sprint. This was the exclamation point. This
was setting the record straight.
As the 6'2", 210-pound Nothstein stood on the podium and listened
to the national anthem, he was a long way from the skinny
teenager coming home with his first racing frame. The fourth of
five children, he had been riding since he was younger than Tyler
is now, going up ramps, popping wheelies, once riding down the
cellar steps and scaring the wits out of the women in his
mother's ceramics class. He went on to make his high school
football team, but he came home one day and announced that he was
giving up other sports to concentrate on cycling. He was already
thinking about an Olympic gold medal.
He had everything going in his favor: genetics (his
great-grandfather Martin Nothstein raced high-wheeled bicycles),
attitude, geography. The Nothstein family lived in Trexlertown,
three minutes from the Lehigh Valley Velodrome, right in the
middle of nowhere. Friday-night bike races in T-Town are a
miniature version of Friday-night football in West Texas. If the
Nothsteins had lived elsewhere, Marty might be playing tailback
for the Redskins.
The night after the sprint, in the Keirin, Nothstein should have
won another medal. In that event, a pace motorcycle--in these
environmentally conscious Olympics, it was actually a
bike--leads a pack of six cyclists for 5 1/2 laps before it
peels off, giving way to sprinting insanity for the last 2 1/2
laps. This race, new to the Olympics, is a popular parimutuel
sport in Japan. (Maybe jai alai will also be in the Olympics
before too very long.) Nothstein got sandbagged in the final,
impeded in the last lap by a German rider named Jan van Eijden,
protecting his countryman Fiedler, who would get the bronze.
Nothstein was trapped in what cyclists call whitewater. He
wouldn't have caught Rousseau for the gold, but there had been a
medal waiting for him instead of fifth place, and he was
seething. Out of frustration Nothstein lightly punched Van
Eijden in the side as they finished the race.
He felt better at brunch the next day, though, as Tyler showed
off his picture in the newspaper and sat on his lap. Nothstein
had a nice time in Australia without making a single friend from
a faraway land at the Olympic Village. Tyler had a nice time,
too. He has plenty to tell Mrs. Minich, especially about his
special bike ride. Now he just has to work on that autograph.
lands but to win gold as the fastest man on wheels