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Still going strong after a tumultuous ride

Joy Das, Bengaluru, DH News Service Dec 9 2017, 22:41 IST
Alexi Grewal is the first American to win the Olympic cycling road race. He won the gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. DH Photo by B H Shivakumar

Alexi Grewal is the first American to win the Olympic cycling road race. He won the gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. DH Photo by B H Shivakumar

From the highs of winning an Olympic gold medal in 1984 to being dropped from the 7-Eleven Tour de France cycling team due to his volatile nature and to admitting steroid usage in 2008, it is safe to say Alexi Grewal has had a tumultuous journey.

The now 58-year-old rose to prominence when he edged Canadian Steve Bauer to win the gold medal in the men's individual road race in Los Angeles in a dramatic final-lap showdown. He became the first rider from the US to win the Olympic road race. Grewal's victory opened the doors for two decades of American domination in international cycling even though doping tainted many of the wins, achieved by Lance Armstrong.

Grewal emerged as a cyclist following in the footsteps of his father Jasjit Singh Grewal, a Sikh from Punjab, who moved to the United States in search of greener pastures and settled down in Colorado. The younger Grewal's big moment came at Los Angeles and he still savours that triumph.

"That race is obviously what I am famous for but I did a lot of races. That race was a gift to me. I was winning only one race in my lifetime, I am happy it was that one," says Grewal, who almost didn't make it to the quadrennial event when he tested positive for a banned substance Phenylethylamine at a stage during the Coors Classic. He was given a thirty-day suspension by the US Cycling Federation. Grewal appealed and saw his ban overturned.

Following his triumph, Grewal turned professional but he never lived up to the promise of his win in Los Angeles and his stint in Europe was marred by controversy. He struggled and the low point came when he spat at the camera when it got too close to him as he was pedalling during the TDF. The gesture was televised around the world and cost the American his place in the team.

"I have many regrets. That is one of them," said Grewal, who was in Bengaluru to promote the Tour of Nilgiris cycle race. "Yes, I had a temper. I was young and immature. I spat on the camera. It wasn't good for my career in cycling but at the same time, those failures taught me a lot. You can't go back and change them. It's unfortunate."

Grewal left his home at the age of 17 to pursue his goals. And the continuous travels kept him aloof from his sisters and parents, who are divorced, for a long time.

"My sister passed away recently, I didn't spend much time with her as a young person because I was pursuing sport. I travelled till I was in my mid-30s. I am reading the diary of a person I never knew. So that's my deepest regret."

Grewal made a big revelation when he admitted to doping in an essay written by him in 2008. A lot has happened since then and Grewal, aware of his deeds, believes he has changed for good.

"I am different now. Maybe five-time fiercer but 10000-times more compassionate. I have changed a lot. I am not a competitive person but I am a fierce person. If I make up my mind to do something, I do it. As a young athlete, I made a lot of mistakes."

After retirement, he took up carpentry as a profession. The Olympic gold-medallist suffered a major accident at the start itself but that incident didn't deter his spirits.

"When I came out of cycling I had no experience, I had never worked with my hands. I cut off two fingers with a table-saw just when I was starting my carpentry career. I guess that was my initiation... I can use my hands but it's not quite the same but that was many years ago. It was a shock. I wrapped my hands with a cloth and drove to the nearest hospital which was 20 kilometres away."

The American has also tried his hand in politics, having run for the post of mayor of Loveland in Colorado twice. He lost the race both the times.

"I have run for political office twice. It's one of the races that I enter and have a chance to win. It is a type of a competition for sure. Other than being a titan in business, where you can do good things, it's one of the places where you can affect positive change. I have my ambition. I ran for the post of a mayor but didn't win but the experience was the best thing I have done for myself personally," he said.

Grewal is looking forward to starting a new life. He struck a friendship with Manjeet, a native of Madhya Pradesh, on Facebook. The couple is slated to tie the knot in Jabalpur on January 9, 2018.

"I am getting married in a few weeks. She won my heart. Manjeet. She lives in Jabalpur. We met three-four years ago on Facebook," said the man eager to keep going in the race of life.

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