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Speed Skater Doesn't Regret Early Retirement

December 20, 1990|HERBERT J. VIDA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six years ago Tom Peterson, a world champion speed roller-skater, announced his retirement from international competition.

Peterson, who lives in Huntington Beach, was recently inducted into the United States Amateur/Federation of Roller Skating Hall of Fame in Lincoln, Neb. He does not regret his decision to leave the sport at age 24.

"That's old for roller-skaters in speed racing," Peterson said. "It's a physically and mentally demanding sport. It's for young people."

After growing up as a self-professed "rink rat," Peterson captured seven world titles and won gold medals in the Pan American Games. In the early 1980s he was considered the top speed roller-skater in the world.

Peterson was a terror in indoor roller rinks in the United States and on the outdoor banked tracks in other countries.

"I never could stand losing," Peterson said, "but if I did everything I was supposed to in training, there was no way I could see myself losing. I didn't lose that many times."

Now president of Hypro Co., Peterson heads a firm that manufactures roller-skating wheels in a Huntington Beach plant and sells them in 21 countries. He built his first wooden skate wheels when he was only 9 years old.

Throughout his competitive days, Peterson remained an amateur.

"We have a lot of stars, and the people in our sport do it for the love of the sport," he said. "There was no money in it at all. Sometimes I was so broke and hungry I would eat the trophy.

"It was a great part of my life. I keep drawing back on all the experience I had traveling, the different cultures I was exposed to and the different people I met." However, like other amateur athletes, he was able to get help from sponsors who provided equipment and racing clothes.

The part he does not miss is the eight hours of training on most days.

"Sometimes I do miss getting up on the line, hearing the gun and the race itself," he said. "I enjoyed it while I was doing it, but not the training."

He won his first national roller-skating title at age 4 and continued to win his age category each year thereafter.

But Peterson was not exactly a well-known name in athletic circles.

"In my own skating circles I was a star," said Peterson, who liked to compete in 1,500-meter races as well as sprints and longer events.

While there are 2,800 rinks in the United States with 40,000 registered skaters, Peterson acknowledges that speed skating does not enjoy much popularity, partly due to the negative image of Roller Derby.

"Roller Derby is like all-star wrestling," he said. "It's just a bunch of hype. I don't think any of them can skate."

But times are changing, and speed skating is coming into its own.

"In the next Olympics, (hockey) roller-skating will be a demonstration event," said Peterson, who earlier represented roller-skating on the Athletic Advisory Council to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Although he is still able to get in shape to compete, he won't do so for the upcoming Olympics.

"Maybe someday I'll compete in the senior Olympics," he said.

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