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Sercu and Simes have raced before and finished in just that order. The world sprint champion held off the young American in their last meet this summer in Denmark, but the ABL is certain Sercu cannot hold him off any longer. Perhaps not. "I would be happy," smiles Simes, saying it but not meaning it, "to get a second place in the Olympics."
Simes has been racing since 1952, when he was 8� years old. Jack Simes II, who had been national champion in 1936 before turning pro, came home one day and told Jack Simes I, who had won the Boston 100-mile marathon in 1904 and also turned pro: "Now, I don't want to brag or anything like that. But this kid is a natural and he wants to race."
"Let us," agreed Simes I, "race him."
Sometimes now the middle Simes wishes he had never said it. When Jack III is racing, Jack II is a jangle of fright and wanders around the infield aimlessly, muttering, "Does anybody have a cigarette?" to nobody in particular.
"I coached him when he was little, but I don't coach him any more," says Simes II. "Some parents are too mixed up in this thing. Why, I've seen some fathers slap their kids when they don't win a race. And, really, you can coach and train a kid until it is coming out his ears, but he has got to have it in him or he won't make it anyway." And across the field, across the track in the bleachers, 79-year-old Jack Simes I points out the other two and says, "Well, he done pretty good in that one. I was kind of afraid when I saw him in the middle of the pack there—you could get hurt if someone was to take a bad spill in that spot. But the kid won without even exerting himself. Yessir. The kid is good."
In 1959 Jackie won the junior national title in Kenosha, Wis., sweeping four events, the half-mile, one-, two-and five-mile races. By 1960 he had become a match-race specialist—which he loves—and a reluctant 1,000-meter time trial racer, an event he dislikes because the rider is all alone on the track and there is nobody to chase, no compelling reason to explode. "It's grinding and lonely and brutal," he says, "but you have got to run these events to get points." On the Tokyo-bound team Simes will race match events only.
"My big venture," Simes says, "came in 1962 when I went off to Europe to race on that circuit and find out what made them so much better than us. I wanted to learn strategy, and they taught me."
The Europeans take their bicycle racing with much more fervor than the Americans—it ranks right up there with love and the long lunch. In some European countries pari-mutuel betting is permitted on amateur races, and in Denmark they posted Simes at a not-very-morale-building 30 to 1.
In the match races, official distance is 1,000 meters—with only the last 200 meters clocked. In the laps before that time riders cautiously jockey for position—which is the key to the race—sometimes standing surplace (motionless on the pedals, balancing), seeking to psych the other rider into a false move. This stop-and-go drama takes place high on the outside rim of the track, and the educated crowds follow its every nuance with critical boos and wild cheers. The rider who can come in slightly under and behind his opponent can control the action. He is in a spot to dive suddenly for the inside center of the track and sprint for the finish; or to let his man dive first, then slide in close behind him, slip-streaming him for an easy ride—then breaking free for the final lunge. Should the upper man become a little frisky in all this preliminary maneuvering, the lower man can "hook" him. This is a deft, upward lunge of the bike that gives the upper man the option of either slowing down to avoid a crash or going over the wall into the audience. Hooking is as old an art in Europe as tapestry weaving, and on that June day in 1962 Italy's Giovanni Pettenella hooked Simes right out of the world.
"His right pedal caught my front wheel and ripped out all the spokes in one slash," Simes recalls. "The wheel collapsed, and I remember this wonderful, slow, lazy, painless feeling of floating through the air. It didn't hurt at all. Then I landed on my face on the cement." Pettenella was disqualified for the vicious hook—an action which did not do Simes a great deal of good at that point—and later a few punches were thrown by one Australian rider who had grown fond of the American.