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SWIMMER CHURNS ALONG NEW PATH : Injured, John Moffet Discovers Bicycling; Passes Up Oxford for National Training

Times Staff Writer

Eddy Borysewicz, coach of the U.S. men’s cycling team, was asked to assess the cycling ability of John Moffet.

“I am sorry. I do not know him. Who?”

John Moffet. Olympic swimmer. Had a world record in the breaststroke. Just graduated from Stanford. He’s in Colorado Springs, Colo., right now, riding a bike at your national training camp. He’s . . .

“Oh, yes. Now I know him. Yes. Very nice man. Interesting man. Very good body. Very good potential. But the switch from swimming is not overnight. He is an excellent athlete and a very nice worker. But no experience.

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“To develop him we will have to push him because he has not had juniors and seniors--you know what I mean? But I am optimistic because he is bright and he is coachable. Very, very good athletic potential.

“I am very happy to get someone like him coming out of nowhere, you know? It is very possible he will be a cyclist. It depends on how fast he learns. We see.

“I think so far so good, but we know each other only two weeks.”

Moffet thinks “So far, so good,” too. And he’s not likely to be too offended that Borysewicz didn’t recognize his name. He knows his coach only as Eddy B, which is what most cyclists call the coach. He makes no attempt at pronouncing or spelling Borysewicz (Bora-CHEV-itz).

Moffet has so much to learn about this new sport that the coach’s name is not a top priority.

According to the plan that he worked out last spring, John Moffet, 22, should be in England now, studying art history at Oxford. But you know what the poet said about the best-laid plans.

When Moffet earned the appointment to Oxford, he thought that would fit right into his schedule: finish at Stanford in June, swim for the U.S. team at the World Championships in Madrid in August, travel in Europe a while and then report to Oxford.

But he didn’t make the World Championships team. At the trials in Orlando, Fla., Moffet was plagued by a recurring leg injury.

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No, not the same injury that cost him a gold medal at the Olympics. The other leg.

In 1984, Moffet went into the preliminary heat for the 100-meter breaststroke as the world record-holder and pushed so hard that, even though he partly tore the muscle on the inside of his right thigh with almost 50 meters to go, he still set an Olympic record with his qualifying time.

That evening, he swam in the final, despite the pain, despite the dismal prospects, and finished fifth as Steve Lundquist won the gold.

He had to pull out of the 200-meter race. No one, no matter how determined, can do that frog-like whip kick with just one leg.

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As he rehabilitated, his left leg was so much stronger than his right that it became overtaxed. Although he was able to compete in 1985 and the first part of ’86, he was developing tendinitis and inflammation in his left leg.

Moffet’s legs are so bulky with muscle mass--naturally, he says, not from weight training--that he generates more power than his body can tolerate.

The anti-inflammatory drugs were not enough the last few weeks before the World Championships trials. Moffet finished fourth in the trials and failed to make the team.

“It was pretty bad then, but I thought I could grunt through it,” Moffet said. “Evidently, I couldn’t.”

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He spent the summer working and trying to rehabilitate, again. Eventually, he had to get out of the water and give those inner thigh muscles a rest while he received therapy.

He bought a bicycle so that he could stay in condition and release some of his “competitive anxiety” while using a different set of muscles.

Moffet said: “I was going crazy while I wasn’t working out.”

Riding around Stanford, he got to know some of the team cyclists, who introduced him to riding at a track in San Jose. Tom Nee, an international cycling official from the Bay Area, saw him working out at the velodrome in San Jose and mentioned him to Eddy B. And Patti Cashman, one of the national team coaches, saw him there and mentioned him to Eddy B.

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So Moffet received an invitation to the national camp.

And what about Oxford?

“It came down to a decision between Oxford and riding my bike,” Moffet said. “One night, when it was almost time for me to leave for Oxford, I was sitting in the car with my girlfriend and I just said, ‘I don’t want to go.’ That was it. It was just that simple.”

But he did want to go to Colorado Springs. Most cyclists get an invitation to a tryout there by sending a letter along with a resume of their times and their racing results. Moffet had no such evidence to offer. He had to present his evidence in person.

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He arrived in Colorado Springs Jan. 7, along with 29 other cyclists. After a couple of weeks, that number had to be cut to eight. One of the criteria used for making that determination was a trial on a stationary bike equipped with a tension device that continually adds resistance. It tests both strength and fitness.

Moffet finished second in that test. He’s still in camp, and will be until March 15.

After just a couple of months of serious cycling, Moffet is sure of only one thing: “I love it! It’s great!”

Can he make it to the international level, the way he did with swimming? Who knows? Can he make a professional sport of it? Who knows?

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He says he’d like to be an athlete for the next 10 years, and maybe he can use cycling as a way back to swimming. He would like to make up for the gold medal he missed in ’84 by winning one in ’88.

Will he try triathlons now that he has shown talent in two of the three disciplines? Absolutely not.

“Not a chance,” Moffet said, laughing at the very idea. “I can’t run. I hate to run. I have no desire to try a triathlon. Swim three miles, bike a hundred miles and then run? That just doesn’t thrill me.”

But the idea of racing in a velodrome does.

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With his power, he is most likely to excel in track cycling. But because he is so new at this, he has been advised to start with road work and not limit himself.

There’s a major road race in March, the Tour of Texas. It’s a series of races spread over three weeks and will attract international and professional competition. It would be a great test for Moffet.

But he’s not allowing himself to count on competing there. He doesn’t think it is at all likely that he could make one of the few available spots. And if he did, he said: “I would get absolutely crushed. . . . That would be like someone swimming for six months and then trying to beat me in the breaststroke. It wouldn’t happen, no matter how talented they were.”

But that’s the qualifying phrase. That’s for keeping in perspective those high expectations. Moffet has reason to believe that he might do quite well in a second sport.

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For one thing, he already has the conditioning, what he calls “an aerobic base.” And he already has experience in international competition.

“I know how to train,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be under pressure. That’s what stops a lot of very physically talented athletes.

“I’m not minimizing my goals at all. I just know I have a long way to go and I know that, with any sport, there is a lot of luck involved.”


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