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Ken Carpenter : Left Cold By School Sports, Sets Cycling Circuit On Fire

September 18, 1987|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Roger Carpenter has been riding his bicycle the four miles between his La Mesa home and San Diego State for the past 13 years. It's a form of exercise and a way for Carpenter, 51, a biology professor, to avoid parking hassles.

His son Ken, 22, was never interested in sports when he went to Helix High, but he needed a way to get two miles to school. Without a car, Ken followed his dad's example. He rode a bicycle.

Five years after Ken Carpenter began cycling and two years after he seriously began racing on the track, he is one of the top two American cyclists.

In August, Ken Carpenter won his biggest race when he defeated his friend and rival Mark Gorski to win the gold medal in match sprints at the Pan American Games.

"When I first started riding, everyone knew who Mark Gorski was," Carpenter said. "He did more for American riding than any other rider."

When Gorski became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in match sprint cycling in the 1984 Olympics, Carpenter was still primarily riding road races. But the gap between them narrowed as quickly as a Carpenter sprint.

"He's definitely come a long way in a short amount of time," said Gorski, 27. "He and I are definitely battling for the top spot."

It has been an ongoing battle for the past year.

"He beat me in Berlin, I beat him in Hanover," said Carpenter, who stayed at Gorski's house in Indianapolis before the start of the Pan Am Games. "When he was really up for a big match such as the Pan Am Games, in the back of my mind, I kind of felt he had the edge. As a matter of fact, I had never beaten him in a major meet."

Until the Pan Am Games.

"There was a lot of pressure on Mark," Carpenter said. "It was his hometown and there was a lot of media hype. For me, I really didn't feel any pressure going into it. I felt that if I just rode strong and rode to my strengths, that I'd do well, win or lose. I was so relaxed coming into it."

Carpenter won the first two races in the best-of-three competition. Midway through the final 200 meters of the second race, Carpenter said he knew he had it won.

"I got that adrenaline rush and beat him by a good bike length," said Carpenter, who is 6-feet 4-inches tall and weighs 225 pounds. "It wasn't as close as some of our other races, which surprised me. I thought it would be a lot closer."

Close races are the norm between these teammates on the U.S. national team.

"It's hard to have a real bitter rivalry with someone when you have to share the same massage table and see him every day," Carpenter said. "It (the rivalry) is not beneficial for anybody concerned. . . . As far as sportsmanship is concerned, we're both really good sports. We both know how to lose. There's no really bad feelings between the two of us, which is good because we have somebody to train with, to push each other."

Carpenter is the new kid trying to replace Gorski at the top.

"Throughout my career, the last six or seven years, someone is always challenging me," Gorski said. "Ken has a lot of physical talent. He has a lot of experience to gain, but the important thing is he has the right mental approach. With that, he can get to the top internationally."

This is the same guy who didn't play any sports in high school.

"I was pretty much a loner," Carpenter said. "I never really liked team sports at all."

So instead, he spent a lot of time going backpacking and hiking.

"I was a granola kind of guy," Carpenter said.

He started riding more and more, and racing some. He had found a sport that suited his personality and talent.

After he graduated from Helix, Carpenter attended Grossmont College for two semesters, but what he really wanted to do was train full-time.

"I wasn't getting anything out of school," Carpenter said. "I wasn't too motivated."

He lived at home, worked at a bike shop and devoted himself to cycling.

"The first time I rode on the track, I decided this is what I wanted to do," Carpenter said. "I liked the intensity, the speed and power aspect of it."

Roger Carpenter liked his son's dedication, but he wished he would be more academically oriented. Ken said his father's credo was: "School is everything, and everything else is not."

Said Roger: "The problem was that he was doing well in school, which was pleasing. I didn't know if it (cycling) would be more than a hobby."

For Roger, biking remains a hobby.

For Ken, biking has become a career.

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