A tale of two Olympians

May 24, 2016

As one athlete trains for his first Olympics, another is preparing for his third trip to the Summer Games. But Matt Baranoski and Bobby Lea have more than one thing in common: They are the only two U.S. men to qualify for track cycling events at the games in Rio De Janeiro and they are both former Penn State Lehigh Valley cyclists.

Baranoski, of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, who was the youngest USA Cycling Elite National Champion, qualified for his first Olympic Games and will be competing in the Keirin event, an eight-lap sprint event. Lea of Topton, Pennsylvania, who is one of the most-decorated cyclists in American history, qualified for his third, having competed in the Summer Games in Beijing and London. Lea will be competing in the Omnium, made up of six events over two days. When comparing track cycling to running, Baranoski would be the sprinter; Lea would be the marathoner.

Their events and training could not be more different, but their paths have crossed for over 15 years. Lea was actually one of the teenage coaches when Baranoski first ventured onto the track at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Breinigsville as a child. Their careers and journeys have been linked ever since and now the two men will represent the U.S. along with five female athletes in the track cycling events at the Summer Olympics.

“I have had the chance to watch Matt go through the cycle and develop. We have been racing together and crossing paths for a long time,” said Lea. “One way or another, friendship overrides the competitive side.”

“We have ridden on the same pro team together and we also share an allegiance to Penn State,” said Baranoski, a Schreyer Scholar.

Lea graduated from Penn State Lehigh Valley in 2006 with a degree in business. Baranoski, an electrical engineering major, attended Penn State Lehigh Valley for two years before transitioning to University Park where he is now on a two-year leave of absence to train for the Olympics. They were both attracted to Penn State Lehigh Valley because of the desire to ride for the renowned former cycling coach, Jim Young, but both gained more than they ever could have imagined from the campus.

“Having the support of everyone from Penn State Lehigh Valley was absolutely instrumental in my success over the years,” said Lea. “It was such a formative time in my career and was a great time to find my way in the sport and figure out who I was. The Penn State community as a whole, regardless of the sport, has been a fantastic tradition to be a part of. I am proud to continue to fly that flag.”

“I definitely still feel support from Penn State Lehigh Valley. People were so welcoming and expressed how great they thought it was for me to be there. They were also supportive with whatever I needed and were flexible with my schedule,” said Baranoski, who went on to ride for Penn State University.

The collegiate cycling program at Penn State Lehigh Valley has a rich history of a legendary, long-time coach, numerous collegiate cycling champions and athletes who have since gone on to become Olympians, such as Lea and Baranoski, among others.

As the last several weeks of training come to a close, Lea offered advice to Baranoski for his first trip to the Games.

“Nothing will compare to the Olympics. It is an incredible experience and such a special time in our lives. The feeling of walking through the tunnel and stepping onto the infield in the Opening Ceremony is something you’ll never forget in your entire life. While performance is a huge part of it and you go in with highest expectations, at the end of the day we all come out of it as part of a great club of Olympians,” said Lea.

Both athletes plan to head to Brazil for the Summer Olympics in early August.

  • Cyclist competing at London Olympics

    Bobby Lea competed in both the Beijing and the London Summer Olympics. He will compete in his third Summer Games this August in Rio De Janeiro.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Matt Baranoski and Bobby Lea

    Matt Baranoski (Left) and Bobby Lea (Right) are two former Penn State Lehigh Valley track cyclists and the only two U.S. men who qualified to compete in track cycling events at the Summer Games in Rio De Janeiro in August.

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated May 24, 2016