Mark Gorski is living a child’s dream, riding a bicycle as long as he likes every day.
Gorski, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter match sprints, hopes he can continue to live that dream a little longer before facing the real world.
Another gold medal would help and Gorski plans to battle Ken Carpenter, Scott Berryman, Nelson Vails and Steven Phillips for the opportunity to go to the Seoul Olympics when the U.S. Cycling Federation holds the national championships and Olympic trials at Houston in August.
“Then (in 1984) I was just trying to establish myself,” said Gorski on a recent return to his native Chicago area. “Once you have won it once, it’s almost out of pride. You have the opportunity to establish a legend. In addition to the competitive drive of wanting to win, that larger inspiration is to be a part of history, something that maybe nobody will ever duplicate.”
Gorski, 28, is already a legend in American cycling because he turned the 1984 Olympic moment into a business career. Where he was making $15,000 a year in 1983 and 1984, he now lists his income in six figures.
Gorksi is best known for the photo of him carrying his young son Alex around the track on the bike after winning in 1984, a photo Hertz uses in its advertising. He is also sponsored by Fuji Film, Bell helmets, Ray Ban, Alitta, Vittoria shoes (an Italian product) and Sundance Natural Juice Sparklers.
“I wouldn’t be able to compete at the level I compete at if I didn’t have the support,” said Gorski. “I would have to work. For me and the other top cyclists, it enables you to train full time.”
Gorski admits he doesn’t need to make the Olympics to survive financially.
“Even if I don’t win, I think I am going to have some good opportunities. If I do win, the opportunities will double.”
There are people who believe Gorski will not make the Olympics again. His performances since the Los Angeles Games have been sub-par and he knows it.
“You are only as good as your last race and the last three years I have not done as well as I would have liked,” he said. “But this year my training, my incentive has been an extra 10 percent over the last three years and I think it is being reflected in how I am riding. I think it took the motivation of the Olympics to bring it out of me.
“Knowing the importance and prestige of the Olympics has brought out the training and the real motivation.”
Although he was able to turn the Olympic gold into financial security, there was little emotional security from the victory.
“For two or three months, I could live off of it, not even ride my bike. I could just be happy and satisfied and that was a great feeling,” he said. “But I don’t like to rest on what I have done. I’m almost uncomfortable with it.”
Gorski started competitive cycling at the age of 13 and soon put everything else in his life behind him.
“My parents weren’t into it, I didn’t have any friends into it. It’s just something I really wanted to do,” he said. “I played baseball and played high school basketball, but once I got into it, it became an obsession. Throughout junior high and high school, I was traveling to races. I had friends in school but I didn’t develop the social life that most other kids did through their high school years.”
Gorski has not yet received an invitation to his 10-year high school reunion at Lake Park High School in suburban Roselle, Ill., because the reunion committee has no current address for him. If Gorski makes the Olympic team, he’ll miss the reunion anyway.
Gorski made the 1980 U.S. team that did not compete because of the Moscow Olympic boycott. There were few sponsorship dollars available then because nobody knew who was on the Olympic team that year.
In 1984, most Eastern bloc countries boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics and the International Olympic Committee allowed two competitors to go to Los Angeles in cycling to make up the gap. Gorski and Vails finished first and second in the trials and in the Olympic finals.
At the same time, speed cycling hooked up with the yuppies and a new recreational industry was born. Gorski was the industry star child and the sponsorship dollars started pouring in. Thanks to his wife, Mary, Gorski managed to keep his head on straight.
“I looked at what I had done very realistically,” he said. “I started the sport 15 years ago when guys didn’t make a dime. Instead, they spent a lot of money to do what they wanted to do. That was good because I saw how this generation had to sacrifice.
“I have never taken any one dollar I have made from cycling for granted. It’s like your grandparents who lived through the depression; they don’t take anything for granted. I’m realistic enough to know how quickly someone’s fame can disappear.”
Gorski went to the University of Michigan for one year, thinking he might need a business degree to survive in the real world. But Gorski thinks the sport generates enough income that he can live off of it for years to come.