scott mercier olympic team

Scott Mercier: How I Got Selected For the 1992 US Olympic Team

By Scott Mercier,
US Olympian, Retired pro cyclist

Scott Mercier competed in the 1992 Olympic Games for Team USA and raced professionally for the Saturn, US Postal Service, and Navigators cycling teams. He will be contributing a monthly column for CTS, featuring stories from his cycling career and the triumphs and challenges of staying fit in the years since.

Following a USA Cycling Category 4 camp in Colorado Springs in 1991, my second encounter with Coach Carmichael came at a National Team camp later that year, over Thanksgiving in 1991. The camp had about 20 riders. I don’t remember too many of the workouts, but there are several activities that I distinctly remember.

One day, Chris decided to take us cross country skiing since the weather was so bad. He thought it would be a fun alternative exercise for us. I’d grown up alpine ski racing in Telluride, so I was comfortable on skis and in the snow. The day quickly turned into a race and I smashed the rest of the guys. I was so far ahead that I didn’t realize that Chris had turned everyone around and he had to keep going until I’d stopped to wait (sorry, not sorry).

The second memorable activity was the day I realized I’d made the US National Team. Chris had posted a list of riders selected to both the A Team and the B Team. I was scanning the list with my buddy, Doug Loveday, when I saw that both of us had been selected to the B team. I couldn’t believe it; I was ecstatic. I had been racing bikes for less than a year at that point!

My final memory from the camp came on another cold and snowy day. The coaches decided we wouldn’t ride but would have a “water play” day in the pool instead. It was this day, in fact, that set me on a course towards the Olympics. One of the coaches suggested that we swim as far underwater as we could. Some guys could do a length of the pool, and a few could do a bit more. I made it over two lengths: significantly farther than anyone else. I came up from the water having nearly drown myself. Charlie Livermore, the National Team soigneur (and now CTS Coach) saw this. When I got out of the pool, he came up to me and said, “You should think about the team time trial. You’ve got huge set of lungs and I think it’d be a good event for you.” I looked at him and said, “Thanks. But what’s a team time trial?” Charlie looked and me and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll find out.”

To this day, I use this interaction as a teachable moment. Many coaches will have an ulterior motive when they ask you to do something.  If they ask you to play ping pong, it’s probably because they want to see your hand-eye coordination. I’m not sure of the motivation behind the underwater swim, but that singular performance got noticed.

I left the camp in high spirits and motivated to continue my long shot attempt at a career in cycling. The Olympic Games were just eight months away. I travelled the Southwest US racing as many races as I could and arrived at the Team Time Trial camp hungry and fit.

I still really had no idea what a Team Time Trial was and had never done one. Chris was in Europe with the road team at the time, so the camp was run by Jiri Mainus, the head coach for USA Cycling. There were 12 riders at the camp. On the first day, Jiri had us in a conference room. He was laying out our training regime, the rules of the camp, curfews, etc. He also dropped what I considered to be a bombshell when he said, “Of the 12 of you in this room, four of you will represent the United States at the Olympic Games.” I still get a chill when I think about that. I looked around the room and realized that I had a one in three chance to make the Olympic Team in an event that I’d never done.

One of the riders turned to me and said, “You are training fodder. You’ll never make the team.” He was probably right, but that didn’t sit well with me.

Our training regime consisted primarily of pace-line training and motor pacing, because both of these simulate a team time trial.  The coaches would divide us into two groups of six riders and have us do team time trial drag races. We’d also do 12-man pace lines where they wanted us rotating smoothly and didn’t want riders to get dropped. I’d see guys starting to drop off or open gaps and would push them back into the draft. I was not making friends, but I wasn’t there to make friends.

Motor pacing was what really stood out. It’s nearly 30-years later and I still remember how hard those workouts were. The thing with the motorcycle is that it never gets tired. Jiri would have 12 of us riding behind the motorcycle. He’d be driving at 35 miles an hour. When you’re directly behind the moto, you get a huge draft. But we were rotating, so you only had 5-10 seconds directly behind the moto. And when you pulled off, you were hit with a wall of wind and your speed instantly slowed by 5-10 miles an hour. Twelve guys in a line means it’s about 80 feet to the back of the line. By the time you got to the last rider, you had to sprint to accelerate back up to speed or you’d get dropped.

Free Cycling Training Assessment Quiz

Take our free 2-minute quiz to discover how effective your training is and get recommendations for how you can improve.

Eventually and inevitably, guys would start to blow up. And usually, the rider who blew was not the one just coming off of the motorcycle. It was the guy in 5th, 8th, or 10th position. And it’s not like he slowed down a little bit. He couldn’t pedal anymore, and a huge gap instantly opened to the riders in front of him, taking everyone behind him off the back as well. I knew I needed to distinguish myself. I told myself that no matter what, I could never get dropped from the motorcycle. When a gap would open, I’d make a Herculean effort to sprint around the rider who’d blown and close the gap to get back in line. It was chaotic; you’re riding at 30+ miles an hour and the motorcycle just keeps going; it’s indifferent to what’s happening behind.

We did this over and over again. Jiri would keep driving until everyone was dropped. And every time, I was the last rider behind the motorcycle. He’d just keep driving for another 3 or 4 miles. Then he’d slow down and let the other riders catch up and we’d do it again.

After one such stretch, he slowed down to ride beside me so we could talk. He asked me, “Where the hell have you been the last few years?” I looked at him and said, “I’ve been in college; drinking beers and ski racing.” He just shook his head.

All of this training was a sorting mechanism. They wanted to narrow the 12 riders down to two teams of four riders each. Four riders would not make the selection at all. The two teams selected would compete against 20 or so other teams at the Olympic Trials in Altoona, Pennsylvania. My performances in training earned me a spot on the A-team along with George Hincapie, Nate Shaeffer, and Dave Nicholson.

The Olympic Trials would be my first true 100-kilometer Team Time Trial. Our team strategy was to start at a consistent pace and then maintain that pace for two hours. Before the first turnaround, disaster struck, and we got a flat tire. We stopped to get a wheel change and by the first time check we were about 90 seconds down, and I thought my Olympic dream was over. We kept to our pace, however, and by the halfway point, we had cut our deficit to under a minute.

At the final time check, we were in the lead. We knew we just had to keep riding our pace for 25 kilometers and we’d be crowned National Champions and would be heading to Barcelona. But with 10-15k to go I started to get sick and vomited. I was so scared that my teammates and coaches would see that I was sick that I forced myself to swallow it down. I didn’t tell anyone and I was so mad at myself for getting sick that I nearly dropped the team on the next climb. They had to yell at me to slow down. But I knew that as the new guy I could not get dropped, I could not miss a pull, I could not show any weakness or I’d be left off the team for Barcelona.

As we raced to the finish line, there was a lone man standing by the side of the road with an expensive pair of new binoculars; my dad Bill. He was the only family member who’d come out to watch the Team Time Trial. He’d encouraged me to race my bike for a summer to have an adventure with my younger brother, and two years later I was an Olympian. That whim of his altered the course of my life. Cancer is slowly eating his brain now, and he’s dying, so this memory is a gift to both of us.

Thanks Dad, I love you.

FREE Mini-Course: Learn How to Maximize Your Limited Training Time

Learn step-by-step how to overcome limited training time and get faster. Walk away with a personalized plan to increase your performance.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Comments 25

  1. Pingback: Scott Mercier: The Highs and Lows of the 1992 Olympic Experience - CTS

  2. Love it Merc….GRIT!!! A phenomenal role model for your kids and many others. You define integrity to yourself, your family, your business, your friends, and anyone else you get’s to hear your “whole” story. Now, understand this will probably be the last nice thing I say to you.
    Happy New Year buddy; we are sending you and Mandie health, happiness, and prosperity in 2021. C~, S~, & M~

  3. Great article! I train with Nate here in Oregon and we raced the state TTT together last year. Your experience really paints a great picture of what you guys went through in those days. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m the third one. It’s John Stenner (closest to the camera and since passed away after he got hit by a car while riding), George Hincapie, me, and Nate Sheafor.

  4. Great article Scott. And yes, I didn’t know you vomited either. I was so impressed with you. You felt bad because you said you had a bad day. Well, you never missed a pull,….so awesome. Those times we my highest highs and my lowest lows. I think my favorite moment was when we saw my brother telling us we were finally up on the other teams with 15 km to go. Look forward to reading more of your articles

  5. Scott, this article reminds us that you are not only physically tough, but also massively tough mentally and psychologically. No surprise that your lungs were such an overwhelming aspect of your power, but it also shows the majesty of that other important element – your fine and well-honed heart. That still shows through today in the man you’ve become. And I can imagine how your dad’s heart was bursting when he thrilled to see you at that finish. Great piece, and thanks for writing to share some excellent stories.

  6. Great story Scott. Look forward to read more of your articles. I remember you racing the Core States series. Sorry to hear about your fathers condition. May Gods grace shine on him as he spends his days.

  7. Scott, brief history of the past – we were “teammates” at Crossroads Fitness in Grand Junction. Enjoy these articles
    Blessings to you + your family + your inspiring father ~ Stay well + keep roll-n

  8. Scott, the fact that your dad was the only family member at the team time trial says a lot about him.

    The way you honored him in this piece says a lot about you. He must be very proud – of both your athletic accomplishments and the man you’ve become!

    Secondly, you can seriously write! I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

    1. Thank you Paul! He decided to sponsor me for a summer to spend time with my little brother before I went off into the “real world.” None of us expected it to last more than a summer. Have a great day. Scott

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *