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Switching Gears : Woodland Hills Cyclist Leaves Secure Job for Opportunity to Train in Colorado Springs and Try for Berth on U.S. Team

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Monday morning, John Wordin of Woodland Hills will load his racing bicycle into a cardboard box and board a plane for Colorado, where he hopes to improve his chances of making the national cycling team by wowing coaches and other big wheels at the U. S. Olympic Training Center.

The 3-week, invitation-only program includes strenuous, high-altitude training in Colorado Springs under the discriminating eyes of the Team USA coaching staff.

“It’s high-intensity training,” Wordin said. “This may be the toughest thing I’ll ever go through.”

The program will be physically taxing for Wordin, 25, and maybe financially draining as well.

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In order to attend the camp, Wordin will leave his job behind. It is the calculated risk of an amateur athlete, an Olympic hopeful without a corporate sponsorship, a man with gold-medal dreams but no silver spoon.

As long as Wordin makes the team, his financial worries will be few.

If the wheels of fortune take a turn for the worst, however, the 1985 Cal State Northridge graduate could find himself scrambling for a way to pay his bills on his return. When Wordin accepted the camp invitation, he resigned his full-time job as a purchasing agent at a Valley-area aerospace firm. He left Friday.

Wordin, a distance specialist who competed in the 1988 Olympic Trials in road-race and time-trial events but failed to make the Olympic team, last year was a member of the Olympic Job Opportunity Training Program, which allowed him to work just 20 hours a week while being paid by his employer for 40. He reapplied to the program late last year, but his bid was denied.

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“Interest in non-Olympic years is next to nil,” he said. “That’s a fact of life.”

Working full time, however, did not allow enough training time, Wordin said. And when he approached his supervisors about taking a 3-week leave to participate in the camp, they were less than obliging.

“They asked me to make a decision, and I did,” he said. “They all said I’m nuts, but it’s a big honor to be selected. I couldn’t pass it up.”

It is the second time in Wordin’s 3 years of competitive cycling that he has quit a job to devote more time to training. In 1987, he left a a South Bay aerospace firm when supervisors there also balked at his request for a more-flexible schedule.

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Six members on the men’s team already have been chosen. Overall, 20 men and 10 women will be selected for the team, which includes track- and road racers. The final 30-member team will be announced in April.

“I know what I’m up against. I know all the other riders and what they can do,” he said.

Making the team would stave off, at least over the short term, any financial crisis. Wordin would remain with the team at its training base in Colorado Springs, also the headquarters of the U. S. Cycling Federation.

“I’d probably be staying up there and training, then making whatever trips they schedule over the season,” he said. “They’d take care of us.”

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Wordin thought his problems were solved last fall when a representative of a fledgling corporate team, which included professional Thurlow Rogers of Van Nuys, approached him about joining. The offer, which would have covered his expenses, ultimately fell through.

Wordin feels his chances of making Team USA are pretty good, because only riders who are not members of corporate-sponsored teams are eligible for consideration.

“It’s like being on a trade team,” he said. “Except that you wear the Stars and Stripes.”

For Wordin, the question of whether to attend the camp is moot. Financial repercussions, he admits, remain a consideration, but money’s importance is diminished in the face of this sort of opportunity. If he must, he’ll substitute-teach or serve as an assistant high school football coach.

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“Making this team is the answer to my dilemma,” he said. “If I make it.”


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