Report from the Sydney Morning Herald - 5/2/96

Top Cycling Writer - Jeff Wells offers the following observations on Australian Sprinter Stephen Pate

This being the Olympic city, Im thinking Olympian thoughts as I wait at the airport for a hulk looks like he could ride a pushbike through a brick wall. But things arent always what they seem to be even - in an Olympian democracy.

Supposedly, if a man does his time he has paid his debt. And, allegedly, the best man gets the spot on the Olympic team and politics dont play a part. Right. And Im the Sultan of Brunei.

And the incredible hulk turns out to be a squat, little, short-legged, freckled guy in a t-shirt, and sunglasses perched in the middle of an unruly ginger haircut. So this is big bad Steve Pate, druggie, bad boy of cycling, mad bull on wheels.

He could be any other tourist escaping Melbourne until you spot the quadriceps under the baggy shorts. They are like bags of cement hanging over his knees. Pate, 32, was in town yesterday to ride in a NSW-Vlctoria beano at Canterbury Velodrome.

But in the next month, he will be the central character in what could be one of those maddening Olympic selection squabbles.

Pate is the outsider, not part of the Australian Institute of Sports world-best track squad. And he is a rider who shamed himself and his sport when he tested positive for steroids after winning a bronze medal in the sprint at the world professional titles in 1991.

He had won a world pro sprint title in 1988. He turned pro in 1986 after he was frozen out of the Commonwealth Games team when the sport was riddled with stupid political decisions. He also won two other world pro medals and held world pro records over lkm, 500m, and 200m.

Pate was like a madman on a bike. He rode the lucrative Japanese keirin circuit in 1989-91 and became a legend there. Huge amounts are bet and every race is a berserk rumble, with elbows flying like scythes, and no quarter given, and he won 32 straight races.

In Victoria these days, he has been paid the ultimate compliment. They call him the Sid Patterson of the 9Os. Patto too, was a world champion and a rager. And in the 1960s he was the No I attraction at every big cycling carnival because he could ride any event and turn it into a spine-tingler. Pate sealed his reputation in 1993 by winning the nations biggest track handicap, the Austral Wheel Race, from 20m behind scratch - the furthest any man has come from behind in the race's 110-year history.

But times have changed. All cycling is now open and this, in theory, gives pro riders an equal chance with the amateurs to qualify for the Olympics. Having Pate around should be like having another "Patto" on the Olympic squad. But, of-course, it is not that simple. First, he has lost his pure sprinting speed and can no longer match it with world champion Darryn Hill or Olympic silver medallist Gary Neiwand. And national coach Charlie Walsh's squad virtually has all the other events tied up.

Last year, the AIS didn't even interrupt its overseas preparation to ride the national titles. This year the nationals, in Perth in three weeks, have been brought forward to make sure the AIS boys ride - but a win still doesn't guarantee a ride in the Olympics. "Frankly,- things -don't -look too good for me," Pate said. "Maybe I should just be hoping for a ride at the world titles."

But senior track official Phill Bates thinks Australia should have a specialist in the 40km individual points score. It has 20 sprints and Pate, who has worked on endurance, has been devastating in this sort of racing lately. It was a fiasco for Australia at the Barcelona Olympics when Steve McGlede was so fatigued from the teams pursuit the night before that he ended up riding for the Italian gold medal winner. Stuart O'Grady and Brett Aitken are the two standouts from among "Charlie's Angels" but O'Grady, who has a pro road contract, may not even ride the nationals. Meanwhile, Pate will line up for Victoria but may see AIS nders, including Victorians, gang up on him and ruin his chances.

What should be a straight out battle of the best could be heavily stacked against one of them - the old bad guy. The points race can be won by a nder who doesn't have many sprint points but gains a lap on the field. Pate will have little chance of chasing down such a break if an AIS rider is out in front. If Pate himself. If he looks like gaining a break he will be chased down by AIS riders from Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

If the race goes to a low-profle rider who is helped in a break by the AIS, that rider probably won't be considered for Atlanta. But Pate probably won't be, either. That would leave the door open for the selectors to pick an AIS rider.

"As far as I'm concerned the drug things is behind me - but I don't know how the officials feel. Im just keeping my mouth shut and hoping I catch the right break. Pate said.

But this is one event in which eyes will be peeled to see just how Olympian the Olympic selection process will be this year.