Tuesday, February 19, 2013

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Chasing Down... Marty Nothstein

By Aaron Torres

Marty is the 2000 Olympic champion in the sprint. For even the world’s greatest athletes, sometimes it takes more than sheer ability or God given talent to reach the top of their sport. In many cases, outside circumstances and simply being at the right place, at the right time, with the right people plays more of a role than anyone cares to admit.

That is certainly the case for 2000 Olympic track cycling gold medalist Marty Nothstein.

A natural athlete from the day he was born, Nothstein spent his youth playing baseball and football and when he did choose to hop on a bike, it was of the motocross or BMX variety. Yet despite growing up in the cycling hotbed of Lehigh Valley, PA and just minutes from the famed Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Trexlertown, PA. Nothstein never considered the sport of track cycling until a neighbor recommended it to him as a teenager.  That neighbor was former Olympic cycling coach Heinz Walter, who was running the Valley Preferred Cycling Center at the time, and saw in Nothstein what the teenager couldn’t yet see in himself: A future Olympic champion.

“I went to the velodrome, hopped on a loner bike, and fell in love with the sport,” Nothstein said recently from Trexlertown, a place he still calls home. “I quit playing baseball and football and wrestling and focused primarily on cycling.”

Incredibly, from that day forward, it would only be a few short years before Nothstein became one of the top sprint cyclists in the world. It would also be over a decade of pain and struggle before Nothstein would reach his ultimate goal of being crowned an Olympic champion.

Marty is the 2000 Olympic champion in the sprint.
Marty is the 2000 Olympic champion in the sprint.
The Olympic Dream:

From his first moments on the track, Nothstein showed a natural proclivity for the sport. He burst onto the scene in 1988 winning a gold medal at the Junior National Championships and a year later became one of the few people- man or woman- to ever win gold in both the Junior and Elite National Championships in the same year.

And the scariest part for the cycling community was that at the time, Nothstein still viewed the sport as much more of a hobby than a career path. Reflecting back now, Nothstein is quick to admit that he never fully committed all of his time and energy to track cycling until after the 1991 Pan-Am Games, which doubled as both his first taste of international experience, and first taste of how truly competitive the sport was at its highest level.

“I didn’t ride as well as I expected to, but I knew I was a better athlete than just about everyone that beat me,” Nothstein said of his experience at the Pan-Am Games. “At that point it kind of turned a switch on for me. I realized, ‘If I really train hard and focused and concentrated on cycling, I felt I could be one of the better cyclists in the world.’”

From there Nothstein’s intensity- a trait which would come to define his career- picked up and within a few short years he fulfilled his prophecy by becoming one of the best riders in the world. Nothstein won his first world championship medal (a silver in the keirin) at the 1993 Track Cycling World Championships, and by 1994 won world titles in both the keirin and the sprint. By the time the next Pan-Am Games rolled around in 1995, Nothstein was a force on the track and won gold there as well.

Marty yells words of encouragement to masters riders during the Masters Track National Championships“Once I really dedicated myself to track cycling, I started to get immediate results,” Nothstein said. “High-level results, winning at World Cups, placing at World Championships, winning World Championships.

“Naturally, the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta was the ultimate goal at that point,” Nothstein added.

Entering Atlanta in 1996, victory was the expectation for Nothstein; after all, that is essentially all he’d done the previous few years. But at that year’s Olympics, on the world’s biggest stage, Nothstein finished second in the gold medal round of the sprint to defending Olympic champion, German Jans Fiedler, by mere hundredths of a second.

It was a crushing experience for a young Nothstein, who’d only come to Atlanta with one goal in mind.

“Ultimately, let’s be clear of one thing,” Nothstein said. “I didn’t win the silver medal. I lost the gold.”

Still, reflecting back on that loss all these years later, Nothstein now sees it for what it was: A blessing in disguise.

“Losing in Atlanta... It was probably was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Nothstein said.

The rest of the world was about to find out just how serious Nothstein was with that statement.

Earning A Spot in the History Books:

Unsatisfied with his silver medal, Nothstein began training for the 2000 Sydney Games before he even left the city limits of Atlanta in 1996.

“People wanted to celebrate my silver medal,” Nothstein said of the days that followed his 1996 Olympic disappointment. “I threw my silver medal on the table and said, ‘Training for 2000 starts tomorrow.’”

It certainly did, and began with Nothstein taking the unusual step of overhauling everything he’d done in the lead-up to Atlanta. Despite being just hundredths of a second from being crowned Olympic champion in the sprint, it wasn’t enough for Nothstein, who completely revamped his diet, weight training and exercise routines. For Marty Nothstein, being “good enough” simply wasn’t good enough.

“You’re not even looking for one percent better performance at this level, you’re looking for a half a percent better performance,” Nothstein said of his ramped up training routine. “Half a percent is sometimes what puts you over the top.”

It certainly did the trick for Nothstein, who spent the next few years dominating velodromes and winning virtually every event he set out to during the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons. By the time the next Olympics rolled around in Sydney, Nothstein was a sleeker, more finely-tuned athlete, with the mental toughness that could’ve only come from his 1996 defeat.

“I just couldn’t wait until the year, until the event,” Nothstein said. “It was more confidence than anything. Thinking ‘Ok, here it is.’”

And when race day eventually came, Nothstein left nothing to chance. He crushed the competition, exacting revenge on Jans Fiedler in the semifinals, before beating Frenchman Florian Rousseau in the gold medal race. After four years of waiting for that moment, Nothstein’s dream had come true. He was an Olympic champion.

“After the event, I had this incredible sense of excitement,” Nothstein said of his golden moment.” You give a victory scream, but after two or three laps of rolling down, I had this incredible - I don’t know if I’ve ever had it before, or if I ever will again- this incredible feeling of my shoulders getting lighter. It was just like, ‘Ok, the sacrifices, the dedication it paid off.’”

Still, even all these years later, Nothstein is quick to emphasize that his Olympic glory didn’t come without the sacrifice of a lot of people. His gold medal was hardly a solo pursuit.  

“Four years is a long time, and it takes a big commitment,” Nothstein said. “Not only from you as an athlete, but from your family, your friends, your coaches, your trainers. You’re all in it together.”

Marty yells words of encouragement to masters riders during the Masters Track National Championships
Marty yells words of encouragement to masters riders during the Masters Track National Championships
Fast Forward to 2013:

Following Nothstein’s Olympic glory, he remained in cycling for a few more years, before retiring for good from the sport in 2006. From there he briefly dipped his hand into a number of other ventures, but mostly focused on catching up with the family and friends who had sacrificed so much for him over the previous four years. To this day he still cherishes getting away with his kids on hunting and fishing trips whenever time permits.

Professionally, Nothstein got his big post-retirement break in 2009, when he was given his ‘dream job’ as the Executive Director of the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. Although Nothstein never left Lehigh Valley in the first place, it only seemed fitting for him to be put in charge of the track which had turned him into an Olympic champion.

Since accepting the post nearly four years ago, Nothstein has initiated a number of new programs at the track, with most centered around getting young children involved in the sport. Nothstein knows from personal experience that not every kid is exposed to cycling at a young age, and how easily he himself almost fell through the cracks. Because of it, Nothstein leaves nothing to chance with the next generation of riders.

“I lucked into the sport of cycling,” Nothstein said. “I don’t want kids to luck into the sport of cycling anymore.”

To the credit of Nothstein and his staff, the programs at Valley Preferred Cycling Center have grown each year since he took over, with over 140 children participating in both the spring and fall in 2012. Just as impressive as the raw numbers though are the actual, tangible results on the track; in the past few years Valley Preferred has produced a number of national champions and 2012 Olympic medalist Lauren Tamayo trained at the track as well.

Not that you need to get to an Olympic podium to impress Nothstein.

“You don’t have to get to the Olympic level for me to share in that success,” Nothstein said. “As I get older, just watching how hard these kids work and how dedicated they are and how fun it is for them. That’s what I enjoy sharing with them.”

Of course if they do have those Olympic dreams, it’s got to be reassuring to know that someone who came from the same track and the same hometown reached the sport’s highest level.

“If any of them want to go on and try to chase down an Olympic gold medal they know that they have a huge asset sitting at the desk helping to guide them,” Nothstein said.

Not bad for a local kid who had to be talked into track cycling by a neighbor.

Source: USA Cycling

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