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David Weller - in a class by himself

RETIRED CYCLIST David Weller remains Jamaica's only Olympic medallist outside of track and field.

Weller timed 1:05.241 seconds in the 1,000m individual time trial at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to win bronze. He was beaten by Aleksandr Panfilov (1:04.845) of Uzbekistan, which was part of the dismantled USSR, and Lothar Thoms of Germany (1:02.955).

Weller was, for a moment, the Olympic and world record holder as he surpassed both marks. But Panfilov and Thoms stole his joy with the latter setting the new record.

Weller also competed in the 1976 Olympics where he was 11th and he finished sixth in 1984.

In The Gleaner's Top 10 athletes of all time, which was featured on Saturday, September 9, Weller was not considered for the top 10 because, "he competed at a Games that was boycotted by most of the western world's top riders."

In this week's One-on-One interview, the St. George's old boy, who has been inducted in the school's Hall of Fame, validated his bronze medal and discussed some plans he has for cycling.

Some persons say you were lucky to have won a medal at the 1980 Olympics because the North Americans withdrew that year. how would you respond to that?

David Weller: In 1980, the Olympic Games were attended by some of the strongest cycling countries in the world. I was beaten by a German and a Russian and the fourth-place finisher was an Italian (Guido Bontempi) so history tells you that all the top cycling nations were there. Cycling was not one of those sports that suffered as a result of the American boycott.

So you still would have won a medal if the Americans and Canadians were there?

DW: Absolutely. In 1980 America and Canada were not very strong cycling nations, and all the major players in the cycling world, particularly the eastern European countries, were there. And bear in mind that the East Germans participated in institutionalised doping. So, for someone to look on my medal as not as important as the next, that begs the question, what about other Games where they had boycotts, particularly Merlene (Ottey) getting a bronze medal in the Moscow Olympics - the Americans weren't there. Likewise, when the Americans did well in the '84 Olympics the Russians weren't there.

How did you do against the Americans at the 1984 Olympics?

I retired after 1980 and went to school, and after being out of competition for two years I came back in 1984 and still beat the American - with a broken wrist. I was sixth and he finished about ninth.

You have also won medals at other major championships?

Yes. I won two silver (1975, '79) and a bronze (1983) at the Pan Am Games and won two gold medals at the CAC (Central American and Caribbean) Games (1978) in record time. As a matter of fact, the record was just broken recently in the 1990s. I also won a bronze at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Canada.

What did you do after the Olympics?

After the Los Angeles Olympics (in 1984), I moved to Miami and I was coaching some athletes up there from about 1986 to 1989. Some of them were master's level athletes who went on to place in the World Master's Championships. One of them was Jan Jardine, Hillary Jardine's (of motor racing fame) son.

I moved up to Atlanta in 1991 and ran a team called Atlanta Velo. From there we started a team in 1992 and in 1995 our team took a medal in every single event on the velodrome at the U.S. national championships, and then we got second at the U.S. Olympic trials, which was unheard of for a club team.

At that time, Chris Carmichael, who is Lance Armstrong's coach, wanted to come and see what we were doing in Atlanta.

Do you have any relationship with the cycling association?

No. (There is a long pause before he continues). There are a lot of things that - I think the cycling association is focusing on a different philosophical direction than I would like to support. I've spent a lot of time in developmental cycling in Atlanta. Iona Wynter started with me in a cycling club in the United States and I trained her between 1998 and 2000. In fact, I gave her her first opportunity on a cycling team. But I do intend to become deeply involved in cycling.

There has been a lot of talk of revamping cycling in Jamaica. If you had all the resources at your fingertips, how would you go about doing that?

Every good success has to start with a plan. I actually wrote a five-year plan for the previous administration but out of frustration I withdrew my involvement.

I remember in 1975 I gave an interview and the headline was 'David Weller wants to be the best in the world', and do you know, I was the laughing stock of Jamaica. People were saying you are just a Jamaican riding a bicycle.

My point is, as a teenager, I started with a plan and I owe a lot of my success to John Hall (father of Michael Hall, Carreras Foundation chairman). When everyone else was laughing at me, he was with the Carreras Foundation, and he would help me.

But back to things needed to revamp the sport. We need the infrastructure (cycling tracks) at the community level, we also need to go out and identify talent, as is done in other sports. We also need coaches and mentors.

Cyclists have a reputation of being the biggest drug cheats among professional athletes today. was it so in your time?

No. The East Germans and the Russians were very suspect back in the '70s and we never knew what we were up against, but the perception that cycling is populated with more drug cheats is testament to the testing that exists in the sport. I don't believe that, per capita, they are worse than any other sport. I firmly believe that the infrastructure that is put in place is more sophisticated.

There has been a lot of speculation about Lance Armstrong's innocence or guilt. what do you think?

I withhold any comment on Lance's performance. As an athlete, he is probably one of the most committed and devoted and the results speak for themselves. He was a runner and then a triathlete and then he went into cycling. I think it was just his upbringing that gave him the drive to be successful. To taint his success by saying he was indulging in some illegal activity would be unfair because their is no substantiation for that.

- LeVaughn Flynn