In 1964, Taneytown psychologist Robert Lea went to the Tokyo Olympic Games as an alternate oarsman on the U.S. team but never got to dip a paddle in the water.
Forty-four years later, his son Bobby, a cyclist, walked in the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, eventually placing 16th in one of the velodrome cycling events.
Robert Lea said that he never believed as a young person that reliving the Olympic experience through someone else could match being a part of it yourself. But he said it’s even better watching your son go through the same experience. This week, the whole family gets to do it again.
Now 28, Bobby made the U.S. team for a second time and in London will be competing in a cycling track event called the Omnium — something like the pentathlon or decathlon — where competitors earn points based on where they finish in six different cycling events. The series of races are scheduled over two days, Aug. 4-5.
The younger Lea also played soccer growing up in Easton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore until cycling became his passion — following in the (bicycle) cleats of his dad, who took up the sport after his rowing career, and his mom — both of whom still compete in master’s age-group races. They both ride and train six days a week through Frederick and Carroll Counties, and occasionally are humored by their son for a “slow ride.”
“Actually, that’s going to be one of the challenges for us in London — we’re going to be off our bikes for a week,” said Tracy Lea, Bobby’s mom, with a laugh. She added that the biggest difference for her and her husband since the Beijing Olympics is now they can follow their son’s Olympic experience via Twitter and Facebook while he’s preparing in London. “Twitter is great,” mom said. She and her husband are flying Thursday to join Bobby in London.
Bobby actually hasn’t lived in Maryland since he was 16. He quit high school and moved to Pennsylvania to begin training full-time at the renowned Trexlertown velodrome. He eventually earned a GED and bachelor’s degree from Penn State Lehigh Valley. He’s won over 40 national championships.
On the steeply curved velodrome tracks, world-class cyclists can reach top speeds of 40 miles per hour. Gamesmanship, strategy and luck are all factors in the outcome of the races. Crashes and tumbles aren’t unusual. While Lea isn’t considered a favorite to medal, he did post a seventh-place overall finish in the men’s omnium at a Track World Cup event in Beijing earlier this year.
Bobby’s younger brother Syd, it should be noted, is also a champion cyclist, Syd, who works a day job on the Mount St. Mary’s grounds crew, won three gold medals in cycling at the 2011 Athens Special Olympics.