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NEARLY 50 YEARS LATER, OLYMPIAN PEDALING AGAIN

By Steve Grimley
The Register

BUENA PARK - When Russell Allen made his break from the sport of cycling, he was determined it would be forever. He almost made it. It turned out to be nearly a half-century between rides for Allen, a member of the 1932 U.S. Olympic cycling team and later a professional racer.

But more than 40 years after he sold his bikes, Allen is back in the saddle. Now 70 years of age and retired to this Orange County city, Allen is riding at least 150 miles a week, both through the streets of the county and at a spot that never fails to get those 50-year-old Olympic memories churning.

Saturdays find Allen and other alums of the old Krebbs Cycle Club of Long Beach pedaling around the new Olympic Velodrome on the campus at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The velodrome will be the site of the 1984 Olympic cycling competition, and Allen can only wonder how well the U.S team would have done in the 1932 Games had there been such a facility on which to train and hold national competitions.

The Olympic cycling in '32 was held on a board oval plopped in the middle of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Allen was part of the four-man American pursuit team that finished last in its only Olympic heat. It wasn't an upset by any means. It was the first time the Americans had entered a full cycling team in a sport that was and still is a national passion in countries that finished ahead of the U.S. that summer day 51 years ago -- Italy, Canada, Great Britain and France.

Despite his inauspicious Olympic perfortilance, Allen moved to Nutley, N.J., the next year, using that city as his home base for a successful five year career on the now-defunct pro cycling tour. Marathon races were held over six-day periods in such stops as NewYork, Chicago, Montreal, London and Buenos Aires. The tour also swung west once a year, allowing Allen to visit his native Southern California.

The pro format had racers pairing off for the marathon rides, competing for purses of $150 to $1,000. Riders alternated shifts, using the hour breaks to grab catnaps and have something to eat. It was a grueling way to make a living, which explains why it was not too difficult to leave behind when he met his future wife, Rose. That was more than 40 years and two grown children (a doctor and a professor) ago.

Health concerns prompted Allen to get back on a bike seven years ago. "I was a little overweight and generally wasn't feeling too good," he said. "I started slowly, but got back into it easily."

On this day, Allen had just returned from a 50-mile round trip from his home to Newport Beach. The workout is broken only by a short stop at his boat, which is anchored in the bay, one of the rewards of a successful, post-cycling sales career. The weekly trip to the velodrome breaks the road routine. "It isn't as difficult as it looks," he said of the severely banked velodrome. "The main problem is keeping in a straight line. Track bicycles have only one gear and there are no brakes. You stop by applying back pressure to the pedals and placing a gloved hand on the front wheel." There are some drawbacks for 70-year-olds, though, he admitted. "The track is easier to ride on than the streets, but I don't like the cement," he said. "I'm hesitant because I'm not used to it. It's a lot harder to fall on than wood. We used to pick up a few splinters or two (his legs are scarred by those 50-year-old scrapes), but it wasn't that bad."

Allen was raised in Huntington Park, but the cycling clubs of which he was a member had to travel to an open-board track in Culver City to get track experience. It was inadequate preparation for what was to come.

The first Olympic night, 30,000 filed into the Rose Bowl to watch Allen and his mates get dumped. It did whet his appetite for such competition, though, a hunger filled by the professional circuit. But while he was burned out by 1938, this time Allen shows no sign of letting up. "As a matter of fact," he said with a laugh, "I rode more last year than I had since I started again."

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