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Their Mission: Recycle the Olympic Velodrome

Facilities: The track at Cal State Dominguez Hills has fallen on hard times, but new association is trying to resurrect it.

August 22, 1998|NICOLE VARGAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1984, the Olympic Velodrome at Cal State Dominguez Hills was the site of the highest level of track cycling competition in the world. The one-third-kilometer oval, surrounded by 8,000 seats, showcased America's Olympic track cyclists, including gold medalists Mark Gorski and Steve Hegg.

That legacy came close to becoming a memory when the Cal State Dominguez Hills Foundation decided the arena and track on the northwest side of the campus should be closed.

Organized racing hadn't been held in the velodrome since the 1980s, and in recent years, its only purpose was to host the university's commencement ceremonies. It had become a costly venue to maintain.

"It has been [almost] 15 years since the Games," said Richard Chester, director of commercial services for the Dominguez Hills Foundation. "It was costing way too much for us to run it. Our first thought was to find a way to use [the velodrome] for its original purpose. We put it out to the community that they may lose [the velodrome]."

The Southern California Velodrome Assn. stepped in, proposed taking over the velodrome and, on May 15, signed a five-year lease. The aim is to turn the run-down venue into a profitable home for track cycling.

The Southern California group was founded by Steve Miche, an Encinitas, Calif., resident and Los Angeles County fire fighter; Willie Banks, the former world-record holder in the triple jump, and Gabor Komyathy of Solana Beach, Calif., who helps cities organize bids for major sporting events. They, with the help of San Diego bicycle shop owner Paul Kelly, consolidated two smaller associations based in Los Angeles and San Diego. They met by chance one March night. A later conversation resulted in a decision that the velodrome should be part of cycling's future, instead of a symbol of its past.

"We want cycling to have an equal share between Los Angeles and San Diego, and we want to run the two together," Miche said. "This is the right mixture for the future of the sport. We don't deal with only the San Diego market or the Los Angeles market. We deal with the Southern California market."

Although Banks and Komyathy had no cycling experience, both had been involved in organizing large-scale events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup.

"When you're sitting on a million-dollar facility in the middle of a metropolis like Los Angeles, it's very exciting," Banks said. "This is something we can use to improve Carson and Los Angeles, and we can use [the velodrome] to improve the sport of cycling."

The first task was to restore the velodrome. Fortunately, most of the needed repairs were cosmetic, such as fixing fences and painting. With the velodrome looking like its old self, it's up to the association to try to fill the seats.

Money, timing and programming were additional challenges. Most sponsorships and events for this year are already scheduled, so the SCVA is looking toward scheduling national-level events next year. The Dominguez Hills Foundation has helped with a three-year declining sponsorship, starting at $15,000 for expenses.

"We are a nonprofit organization," Banks said. "The bicycling industry is not flush with cash. We are associated with the bicycling industry, but we are looking at any major player in the Los Angeles area that wants to connect itself with the sport."

Said Miche: "The most difficult part is getting successful programs and events. . . . The key is to develop consistent programming, and we have started holding elite-level races every Thursday. Our goal is to have a Friday night weekly series."

The group, which owns the San Diego velodrome, is interested in establishing a circuit of tracks in Southern California.

The goal is to attract international racers.

"We are a professional group that wants to improve the sport," Miche said. "Our main intention is to save an Olympic legacy."

The United States has only 21 velodromes and the ability to train and race year round in Southern California is something organizers hope will draw elite riders back.

"Things come and things go," Miche said. "It's coming to an age when people are coming back to [cycling]. In San Diego and Los Angeles, you can't ride on the street anymore. Our track is so gentle, and you don't have to worry about people or cars or potholes."

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