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Retro Cycling legends
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Paulo Ongaro is coming from a cycling family
Everybody in Edmonton knows Paulo, he is very popular cyclist: sprinter and a track rider. Paulo is also successful business man. His biggest competitors are his own brothers; that’s where his pedigree is coming from.
Paulo is also my neighbor and a good friend. We sometimes go together for a Sunday morning training rides with his brothers. I try to stay in shape and control my weight, while he is preparing himself for a competition. His goal is to return into good form and participate in the 2013 World Master Games in Torino Italy, his ‘old country’, where his parents originally came from. He would like nothing less but to win the Olympic sprint!
This winter I mentioned to Paulo how I would like to write blog about his dad, Rino Ongaro, but I also needed some information about Paulo and his three brothers, to complete my story about Rino. He gladly jumped on board and provided me with the following autobiography, which I am publishing here in its original version.
Paulo Ongaro (right) and his buddy Lars Madsen
This is what Paulo has to say about his cycling life:
Paulo Ongaro (June 16, 1970)
“I have so many memories of cycling as a young boy, the smell of “A 535” on a Saturday morning as my older brothers and my dad were preparing to go out on a spring bike ride in the cold morning air. I also remember riding in a support vehicle with my dad as we followed Rudy in a local bike race.
I remember sitting watching Rudy training on the rollers when I was about 5 years old, captivated by how the wheels were spinning and why he wasn’t going anywhere I decided to test the equipment by putting my finger in the rubber cable and the steel roller… not a good idea. One key memory though was the frequent visits to Velocity cycling store and the one question Joe Zombor (owner) would always ask me: “When are you going to start riding?”
Me beating Alex at the provincials in 1991, my greatest victory, I was so happy that I lost two in a row after that one!
As a young boy I was following in the footsteps of my brother Ross the soccer player. But soon the temptation of the bicycle machine and the shiny moving parts would bring me to the sport of cycling. At the age of 14 while my brother Alex was competing at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles the transformation began. I was riding my bike to soccer practice and enjoying the ride to and from practice, more than the practice itself. I didn’t realize it yet, but I was inevitably becoming a cyclist. At the age of 16 I rode my first race as a cadet. It was a criterium at Roper road industrial park where I finished 2nd to Kurt Innes from Calgary.
I tried to ride the road races for a season as a first year junior, but I found it very difficult. I discovered very quickly that I did not have the desire to suffer in long races. I’ve found some success in local criteriums… funny enough the same course in Namao on the Tuesday night races is where I found it easiest to hang in the group and blast out a sprint at the finish. Soon though Alex would take me to the track. This is where I had my 12th birthday party, so I was familiar with the velodrome. Actually you would find me on any banked driveway as a kid doing balancing track-stands, pretending to be a sprinter. After a few weeks of training on the velodrome, Trevor Gadd an English Born sprinter, was hired to coach the provincial team for the upcoming Nationals in Edmonton 1987. He selected me to ride the sprints and the Kilometer. I had only ridden two track meets prior to Nationals and never sprinted up to this point.
Steen Madsen and Paulo Ongaro
So for me the nationals were the first match sprinting I had ever done. I remember hearing the national team coaches mumbling something, as in my very first heat I track-standed my opponent to make him take the lead and then rushed him with a surprise jump with 300m to go for the easy victory. I remember I qualified second at those nationals and thought I could have won the title that year as a first year junior, but I was not confident and I was inexperienced. Looking back with what I know now, I should have won both junior national sprint championships.
But I didn’t have a coach with me and I just didn’t know how to ride, but the speed was there that’s for sure. In 1997 I qualified second and finished a disappointing fourth. In 1988 I qualified first and finished fourth again. As a senior I managed a couple of bronze medals in the match sprint and a silver medal at the Canadian world championship trials in 1990.
Doug Baron (Calgary), Steen Madsen and Paulo Ongaro (Edmonton)
Paulo beating Lars at the 2001 Nationals for the bronze medal.
Finally in 2001 I won a national gold medal in the Olympic sprint team event along side of Jim Fisher and Doug Baron of Calgary.
Lars Madsen was their regular teammate and Lars was my closest training partner who I spent many hours along side. I think as a gift when he asked me to start the opening lap of the final, at the Nationals that year. I had two massive engines behind me, so I wasn’t to worried about the win, but I was really worried about the start. First of all I had never started Out of a UCI style gate, so what better place to learn than the nationals final. I never had to deal with the countdown clock and the final beep, I had no experience, but that’s O.K. I managed somehow
to get out of the blocks so to speak. In addition I had old toe straps that were starting to crack and I was worried about pulling a foot. My disc wheel was a rental and it was a piece of junk I Was terrified that the wheel was going to crumble out of the start. Also, just before the start my calf was twitching and I have always had issues with calve cramps, needless to say I was, worried about this start.
This is me giving Travis Smith a little bit of Experience with 100 meters to go at the Nationals in 2001. Travis went on to become a much more accomplished cyclist than I ever was…
It took me a bit extra to get the motor started out of that gate, but once I hit turn two I was feeling great. I simply finished my opening lap and the boys sailed on to a dominant victory. There it was my first and only national gold medal… what no one knew was that my good friend Lars’ name was on that team list as well, since he had ridden the Qualifying round, and without a victory in the final, he would have lost his National carding/funding. He let me know this only moments before the start… NO PRESSURE!
In the same year at the individual race I knew I couldn’t beat him in the semi-final, so I saved my energy for the bronze medal ride. We made an agreement before the match; I would lead him out two straight rides. Just as we started the first heat at the line, he looked at me and said, “You are not messing around with me are you?”
I said something like, “No Steen, I know how much this means to you.”
He qualified in a track record time that I guarantee you, will never be beaten 10.48 seconds!
I qualified in a time of 11.10 seconds an impossible difference in speed, so the decision the night before was to use the semi-final rides as a warm up for the bronze medal.
I have raced in three decades. I rode the Nationals in 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1999 & 2001. I am intending to race again as I have started training with hopes of competing in 2013. This will very likely be my last Nationals. We will see I guess, we can never know anything for sure when we speak of the future.
Moments before the launch, Nationals 2001 with Doug Baron and Jim Fisher
Me with my kids on the top of the podium, a very happy moment, that is Lars peeking over my shoulder
My first national bronze this match took seven tries and this was the most dangerous race of my life, this guy was completely crazy!!!!! He crashed twice by himself and he was disqualified twice for passing inside the apron, ultimately I won.
At this moment I reached my potential and satisfaction.
Moments before the big race Paulo vs Alex Provincials 1990
Me and Curt Harnett at the World Trials, I finished second and the top two were supposed to go to worlds, They didn’t send me. I quit the following year to start a career and a family.
On my way to my first sub 11 sec. on 200 m
Looking back the sport of cycling was a true journey and a pleasure, regardless of the accomplishments or lack of, you see in my family it was very difficult for me to feel accomplished as a cyclist. I have 4 National medals, 1 gold and 3 bronze, several provincial championships and medals. However, when you grow up in the shadow of an Olympian (in the family), anything short feels like a failed attempt. Only in the recent years have I found some feelings of success as an athlete. Everyone reaches different levels, and in the end it is if you feel you reached your potential. At one point I believe I did and it was enough for me to be satisfied. Now I found the most joy in the sport than I ever have simply riding on Sunday mornings with my brothers.
Paulo Ongaro 200 meters personal best
Calgary Hand Timed 10.69 sec, 10.74 sec, 10.89 sec,
Calgary Electronic timing 10.91 sec , 10.93 sec
Paulo’s three brothers were also heavily involved in sport. With exception of Ross, all of them were cyclists. Here is their short cycling biography:
Rodolfo Patrizio Ongaro, was born March 17, 1956 San Giorgio al Tagliamento, in Italy. He came to Canada in 1958 with his parents and lived in Edmonton until 1968 when the family moved back to Italy and lived there until May of 1969.
The family than returned to Canada once again. Up to this point Rudy was a promising young soccer player, until he caught the cycling bug at age 16. The first year Rudy rode with his father for fun, until together they decided they were ready to begin competing. What a learning experience that was… they were getting hammered by everyone. The next year was spent trying to learn how to train properly for competitive cycling. By the beginning of our 3 rd. year results were starting come. Rino and Rudy met Marijan Kahlina (coach and rider) and joined Alberta Cycle Racing Club. That year (last year as a junior) Rudy was selected to ride with the provincial team, both on the track and road. The Canadian Nationals and the Canada Summer games were the highlights. Rudy continued to race frequently at the local races, being selected to represent Alberta at National competitions. Rudy hung up his bike in 1985 only to find it again in 2005. Since then Rudy has been training mainly to keep fit and socialize with friends through the sport. His long term goal is to go to Torino and win the Olympic sprint with his two younger brothers, Paul and Alex.
In this photo: Rino, Paul and Rudy in Italy on a March training camp in 1976.
Rosario Luigino Ongaro, born September 9, 1959. He too began to compete in some early spring races in 1970. Ross was already showing great promise as a soccer player, but decided to try a few races. He was a cadet, and I don’t remember too much because his cycling career only lasted 3 races. At that time there were maybe 3-4 boys that age riding , one was Shane Frohm and …..Heachock (spelling??) and Ross of course. Also it is important to note that Rudy Frohm, Shanes father would always follow the race in his BMW motor bike. Long story short Ross won the first race. He won the second and then won the third. Shane crashed following Ross’s wheel and Rudy Frohm was really mad and yelled at this 11 -12 year old kid. Ross quit, and went back to soccer. Good thing… The rest is history.
Born in Edmonton, he is a retired Canadian soccer player who earned one cap each with the Canada U-20 men’s national soccer team and Canadian Olympic soccer team. He played professionally in the North American Soccer League, Major Indoor Soccer League, Western Soccer Alliance and American Indoor Soccer Association. He has coached extensively at the professional level and was the head coach of the Canadian Beach Soccer and Futsal Teams until September 2011. He has been hired for 2012 by the Chinese Football Association to become their National Beach Soccer Head Coach.
In 1979, Ongaro played one game with the Canada U-20 men’s national soccer team. He was on the roster of the team at the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship but did not play a game in the tournament. Ongaro also played one Olympic qualifying match in 1979.
Alex Ongaro on the podium with another gold medal. Shaking hands with Zolt Zombor.
Alexander ‘Alex’ Ongaro (Oct 5, 1963)
Alex Ongaro, an Edmonton born athlete and 7 year member of the Canadian National Team was a silver medalist at the 1986 Commonwealth Games and 9th place finalist at both the 1984 Olympics and 1985 World Championships. In Bassano at the world championships in 1985 he clocked the third fastest time behind Luts Hesslich and Michael Huebner of the DDR. In 1986 unofficially he held the world record for 200m, after he rode a blazing 10.29sec 200m sprint in a heat with no disc wheels and no wind up.
Alex was a natural born sprinter on the track. He was in Canada Olympic team for Los Angeles 1984 games, where he participated in the Men’s sprint discipline on the track and achieved very good qualifying time of 11.23 sec.
In this photo: Zdenko, Alex, Marijan and Rudy (Paul was late… lol!)