To admire the wax figure of Daniel Morelon at the Mus�e Gr�vin in Paris one must first pass by Napoleon Bonaparte, who, in another time and place, was also a champion of champions. But of the two, only Morelon was voted that highest title in French sports and only Morelon has won every world championship he has entered since 1966 and a clutch of Olympic gold medals as well.
At the Grand Prix of the United States bicycle races at Encino, Calif. last week the 28-year-old Morelon was operating with his accustomed aplomb around the high-banked velodrome—taller, perhaps smoother and just as imposing as the emperor himself. "For Daniel Morelon," said Denmark's successful insurance salesman and Munich gold medalist Neils Fredborg, "it is only important to win, win, win. And that is what he usually does, though it seems he sometimes takes it too seriously."
Morelon's two weeks of racing won for him a 1,500-meter gold medal and a 10,000-meter bronze before a sore back and Australia's John Nicholson upset him in the sprints on the last day. His victories in the two longer races were testaments to his versatility against a field whose high quality suggested more a world championship than only the second U.S. Grand Prix. Sprint races, Morelon's specialty, explode at the end with a mad dash of 200 meters after more than two laps of tactical maneuvering that may even include dead stops. No one has ever beaten Morelon's best time over that distance of 10.68 seconds. But at Encino, Morelon's dash was not so mad after a bad spill during warmups the day before.
"When I am sitting at the starting line," said a healthy Morelon earlier, "I am thinking only of my opponent: 'I am going to beat you. I'm really going to beat you.' I do this no matter what kind of race it is. I know the sprint gives me my best chance to win, but still I try. If I lose the longer races I can admire the Fredborgs and the Reno Olsens. I see them as I see myself."
Those two Danes combined to give Denmark the most impressive showing of the 13 countries represented at Encino. Between them they won nine gold medals and two silvers and a bronze. But the leading individual medal winner was, unexpectedly, an American—and not the highest-rated U.S. rider in the competition, either. Nineteen-year-old Ron Skarin of Van Nuys, Calif., a member of the U.S. team at Munich, collected eight medals, including two golds in the 4,000-meter pursuit and the 20-mile team race. He had silvers in the 30-mile criterium road race, the 15,000-meter, the 10,000-meter point race, the miss and out and bronze medals in the 20,000-meter and 10,000-meter. "I'm just now learning how to ride, so I thought I would get stomped here," said Skarin, whose performance earned a World Bicycling, Inc. scholarship to compete this summer in Europe. "I guess I'm starting to show brains and brawn both. I used to think I was more insane than anything."
Brains and brawn is precisely the combination that has taken the contemplative Morelon to the pinnacle of amateur bicycling, though the word "amateur" ignores the appearance and prize money routinely doled out at Grand Prix events all over the world. Morelon's true benefactor, however, is his coach, Toto Gerardin, whose longtime popularity as a rider in the professional sprints ended more than 25 years ago.
"Daniel was just a local road-race rider who happened to do well in our national sprint championships one year," said Toto last week. "I decided to put him on the track and before long I realized just what I had discovered. I said I would make him a world champion. He had the ability and I could tell he was willing to work."
Encouraged by Gerardin, Morelon left his brothers to toil alone in the factories of Bourg-en-Bresse. "They are still there," says Daniel, "and they are terribly jealous. But I understand. I know myself how fantastic it is to hear the cheers. I want to win for myself and for the public. I do not want to disappoint either of us. If I lose, I always know why. If I win, it is because my form is as it should be."
For all his drive to succeed, Morelon has remained popular with foreign competitors and his teammates as well. "We are more brothers than friends," says Pierre Trentin, "although things did change for me when Daniel came along. I stopped thinking about the sprints and took up the kilometer. I've been world champion in both but I would still like to win a sprint gold medal. With Daniel around, that is not so possible."
If anyone does surpass Morelon at the world championships this summer, it might by Olympic silver medalist Nicholson, who lives and trains in Europe. "I think perhaps it could happen this year," he said at Encino, "but as much as we all want to beat him, we respect and like him, too. It could be that his success is due to his character. He is not at all arrogant. If he were he might not be so aware of other riders' strong points and how they can be overcome."