NASCAR on Two Wheels

August 4, 2016 at 11:07 am 2 comments

Photo via Steve Boyle

Photo via Steve Boyle

His older brother loved to race bikes, and so, as a boy of only 5 or 6, Matt Baranoski found himself dragged along to the track. He was technically too young to join in, but he knew how to ride, and it hardly seemed fair to make a kid that age sit and watch while the older boys had all the fun. So his parents asked, and the folks in charge at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome said sure, and an exception was made.

Fifteen years and a cabinet-full of trophies later, the exception seems to have worked out pretty well.

It’s late April as Baranoski tells the story by phone from suburban Toronto, where he’s part of a select group of cyclists training at a sparkling new Canadian cycling center. It’s among the best facilities of its kind in the world, and the elite competition is exactly what he needs as he works to peak in time for Rio. “It’s always good to be pushed,” he says.

Photo via Steve Boyle

Photo via Steve Boyle

In truth, Baranoski doesn’t seem like the type to struggle for motivation. A junior national champion by the time he was 12, able to hold his own against top international competition just a few years later, he quite literally never slowed down. His ambitions on the track informed his college choice: The Perkasie, Pa., native chose Penn State Lehigh Valley because of the proximity of the world-class velodrome and the campus’s cycling program, led by longtime coach Jim Young, whom Baranoski calls “a legend in the collegiate cycling world.” (Baranoski will be joined in Rio by Bobby Lea ’06 Berks, a fellow Lehigh Valley alum making his third Olympic appearance.)

Baranoski rides in an event called the keirin, which he calls “the most fun race on the track.” It’s an eight-lap sprint around the 250-meter banked track, paced by a motorcycle, that leads Baranoski to compare it to NASCAR; world-class cyclists will approach 50 miles per hour down the stretch, occasionally bumping each other to protect their position. “For the last two and a half laps,” he says, “it’s all-out war.”

Six days after his final race in Rio, Baranoski will be back at University Park for his final semester in the Schreyer Honors College; the electrical engineering major is set to graduate in December. It’s a quick turnaround, but if anyone can handle that sort of pace, he’s probably the guy.

This story appears in the July/August 2016 issue of The Penn Stater, the official publication of the Penn State Alumni Association. Not a member? Click here to join.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

Advertisements

Entry filed under: Athletics, From the Magazine, The Penn Stater Magazine. Tags: , , .

Ali Krieger’s Long-Awaited Olympic Debut Do the Champley-Watson

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Janesch  |  August 4, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    As a Lehigh Valley native, I’m especially interested in this story. I haven’t been to the Velodrome for years, but it is a really cool place!

  • 2. Mac Heebner III  |  August 4, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    IT IS WORTH A VISIT — YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE IT, IF HAVE NOT SEEN IT.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Follow The Penn Stater on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow us and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 423 other followers


%d bloggers like this: