On Tuesday we heard the sad news of the death of Edward ‘Eddie B’ Borysewicz. Ed Hood spoke to ‘Eddie B’ back in 2017. Borysewicz brought US cycling to the pinnacle of success at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics with a boat load of medals. Award winning coach, but with a dark cloud of blood doping over his head.
LA Olympics ’84
A champion cyclist in Poland who became a coach, moved to the US and coached the US team to their greatest ever medal haul in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He was feted as a hero until the ‘blood doping’ scandal erupted and split the world down the middle; a man who did what he had to do to deliver – or an East European cheat?
PEZ: Tell us about your palmarès back in Poland.
Eddie Borysewicz: I was a bike rider in Poland from 17 to 29. I started as a junior, with nothing. I was National Champion several times, both as a junior and a senior, in pursuit. My best year was 1965 when I won seven races. When I started physical education to be a member of the National cycling team, 1500 candidates competed for 90-some places. This is a very top level job. Many people try to achieve it.
Several different doctors check your body, check your blood, check your fitness, and see if you can do the program, because it is very hard, physically, too. After this medical testing 700-800 people are gone, they have no chance. Next, another seven hundred are gone; down to 200 – that was the physical test. I qualified, I passed all aspects. Next was the theory test. That was chemistry, biology, all this stuff, language and second language. I passed this too. I qualified in the top 20 of 90-some. I’m a lucky guy because God give me one thing: memory. Over there it’s a very hard program. The program for physiology and anatomy is much bigger than in medical school. We can switch to medical school after two years, because it is so hard.
There are two things young people are expected to do in Poland that held back my cycling. Everyone is required to be in Army — for two years. When I was released from that, I went back to cycling. After school is over, you are expected to work for two years to pay back for your education. I always went back to cycling as soon as I could. When I was 20, in January, I was on the National Team getting ready for the Peace Race when I was misdiagnosed with TB because of an old scar appearing on an X-ray. They sent me to a clinic where they gave me medication that was not needed and made me very sick. I went in feeling like a rooster and got out feeling like a pigeon.
It took me six months to feel good again, to become part of the National Team again and produce good results. Because of this damage, I knew that I would not be a World Champion, that dream was over, but I was still strong. When I did all this testing and got into school, I was 21. All together, I was on the National Team for six years. I was on the track team and I was on the road team. This was good for coaching because I had track experience, and I had road experience. I said to myself, “I know I’m not going to be a World Champion, so I’m going to educate myself, I’m going to be a coach and develop World Champions”. That was my motivation.
I received my Master’s degree in physical education and I got a coach’s license. In Poland, the government is very strict. Over there, when you are 29 you retire, you are considered an old guy. I know when I was forced to quit I felt best in my life and I was 30, so I could have kept racing. Over there when you are a coach, you can’t race, because when you’re racing, you think of yourself. You must think about your team. The Chief of the top of my sport in my city told me that it was time for me to pay back, “We educated you”. I won a National race on a Sunday and on Monday I was suddenly a coach and started coaching all my friends.
A young Eddie B in his racing days
PEZ: You were a runner first?
In Poland is a different system. Sponsors for clubs are businesses, and business is required to do stuff like that. My father was military before. He paid attention to how I walk, he paid attention to how I ran, he told me how I have to run, you know, toe positions, and stuff like that. I raced 400 meters with no training and I qualified. Next, my friend taught me because he was a runner. He was older. We started running every evening, after work, in the park or to the forest, for a run, and I remember I made progress by some seconds; then more progress to the National Champs and the 400 meters.
I went back to live in the city of Lodz with my parents and I started to ride the bike. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t know how to glue tires. I knew nothing about organisations or clubs or anything. I saw one guy on a motorcycle pacing a pack of young guys on bikes. I tucked in behind and waited. He had them sprint to the top of the hill. These guys were too slow, I went around, passed them and then slowed down again, tucking in behind. I did the same thing again for the next sprint.
After training, the coach told me who he was and I went to his club; he told me he’d like to have me in the club. In Poland, it’s not like in America; you have to be invited to join a club. Later I had a really good time because our President and Board liked me so much, I had the best salary and I had everything I needed. My team, “SPOLEM”, was a trade business, they have many stores. (grocery stores/retailers cooperative, night club in Krakow). I always stayed with the same club.
Eddie still has Polish contacts
PEZ: How many years did you coach and did your methods change much over the years?
I coached over 45 years, almost 50 now, since I still coach a few people. Now I am more for consultations. I coached 10 years in Poland and then I started coaching in the U.S. in 1977. My coaching always changes. A coach is responsible for results. Whatever I see or hear about, I watch and think. If I think it might help improve performance and results, I try it with my riders. There have been many changes over my career, physical and mechanical. Sometimes I am the one who gets an idea and I try something that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes I get into trouble, but as long as it’s legal and looks like it will help, I try and hope it works.
I am the first one who used radio to coach my riders during a race. Someone else claims that they used it first, but I used it in Poland and after I came to the U.S. when we were in South America. The coach can see things riders can’t. Instead of running around the track like a monkey, it’s easier to use a radio. In Poland, I used radio to tell riders when to sprint, but it was just with beeps. After I came to the U.S., I used it in a race in South America until officials told me not to. Now it is not legal on the track, but it’s used in road races, all the time in the Tour and the Olympics, you see it on TV. When I was with Mr Weisel (Subaru Montgomery), we were the first team to use titanium frames in our Pro Cycling Team and we used helium in the tires. I have always looked for how to improve riders’ ability to perform, everything from their physical health to mechanical advantages. As a coach, my responsibility is for results, so that’s what I look for, how I can improve results.
Olympic glory with Alexi Grewal
PEZ: Why come to the USA?
I came to the U.S. for the 1976 Montreal Olympics when one of the riders I developed in Poland, Mieczyslaw Nowicki, won two Olympic medals; and also for a vacation. I met Mike Fraysse and his father at their bike store. I couldn’t speak English and they couldn’t speak Polish, so we could only talk in French. They asked me to come for a ride and loaned me a bike. I was surprised at all the people who showed up for the ride and their physical condition. I fitted some of them to their bikes and talked to Mike and his dad about my training for bicycling and coaching in Poland. They decided maybe I could be a coach in America. I had already done all I wanted to do in Poland. For Polish people, America is a golden opportunity. So, I figured how much I would need in order to live in the U.S. and told them. They seemed happy to write a check immediately. That was the beginning, totally an accidental meeting.
PEZ: Who was the biggest talent you worked with?
Greg Lemond. He was a diamond. If he hadn’t gotten shot, he would have won the Tour 10 more times, with no drugs. A diamond is indestructible; all you need to do is polish it. He was better than Lance. I worked with Lance and worked with Greg. With Lance, I don’t think – like stupid people do – that he is a cheater. He’s not a cheater. He just made things even. Check the winners, the top ten in the Tour de France. Everybody tested positive on someday or another but he didn’t, because he was smart. The only problem with Lance for me was that he’s a typical Texan guy. That’s the problem. The leader has to share with his team – Lance was not good with that.
‘Lemond was the best!’
PEZ: Who was the biggest talent who ‘slipped away’?
Steve Wood. He had a girlfriend who took him away from cycling. Love is love and that is dangerous for cycling too, especially when you are young. He was 18 years old and he won the Nationals, beat the Stetinas and everybody.
But for me, the best guy was Lemond. Second best for results, for talent, was Andy Hampsten. Andy was a climber, that’s called a “spider”. I didn’t select him for Olympic Games and he was upset. The road course was not for him – too flat. It was a problem, choosing between him or Phinney, who was the best sprinter – so the tactics were for Davis. Alexi Grewal did nothing but wait for the opportunity and it worked out perfectly. I was lucky because the tactics were good, no flat tires, no last-moment sickness, and we prepared well. And, we had this advantage – our guys were fresh!
PEZ: Are you still in touch with many of your guys?
Yes, many of them, not all. I get calls from some of them.
Rafal Majka needs to improve his sprint
PEZ: Majka is the top Polish rider right now, how would you improve him?
I have not worked with him, that’s one thing. I don’t know much about him. For me, it looks like his development is very good. He would have to work on weakest point – his sprint. Maybe I would put him into track races. I don’t know what I would do.
Poland’s other big rider, Kwiatkowski is an incredible talent. He was skinny but still people pushed him to lose weight. Be careful with losing weight. It can happen naturally, by racing, but not too much. You take your time, and it can be great a great help. When you push too hard to lose weight, you will lose muscle, that’s the problem.
Taylor Phinney – Best days behind him
PEZ: Can Taylor Phinney get back to the top?
No. I think he is hurt mentally, not only physically. He had a terrible crash – I don’t know exactly how he is. I say this because I believe he is not 100%. Part of the problem is mental. He can be good, but his best time is behind him. There was a screw up, that’s not his fault. He’s an unbelievable talent who has not reached his potential. For me he hasn’t yet reached his potential because for me, a couple things: too early he went to the road, and too hard to the road, because he is a tall guy, and you have to wait until he gets down to being very skinny – because if not, the problem is climbing. Tall guys can climb, but they must be skinny. Young guys have natural fat.
I remember when I was a bike rider, I was skinny, was like this oak (knocks on hard table). You have to do everything gradually, to be smart. Pushing too much is a problem. Lemond come to me after two years, said “Thank you very much for what you did for me.” Because I held him back like a stallion, and didn’t go over the top with work. A young rider must be always hungry. When he is not, it is not good, because it – overtraining – causes mental and physical problems.
Peter Sagan: ‘Incredible!’
PEZ: What do you think of Peter Sagan?
PEZ: What do you think of the current ‘training on power’ methods?
Eddie Borysewicz: That’s great stuff. But I have a different, I think better, method. Most important is your heart and blood. The heart tells you whether you’re tired or not. A power meter tells you how much wattage you can produce, but you need to understand why. Recovery is very important – in recovery you see your fitness.
Not just power but power for what?
Power for a few minutes recovery or power for six hours? That’s different power. The best thing is recovery.
My way is: Rest is second in importance to hard work. Without hard work, no results. But without rest – no results. People don’t believe you have to rest. My best thing is, with your program is after a race, rest there. The next day is resting, sprints. And you see and check all the time. In Colorado Springs, everyone, every day, listed their heart rate for that day on the door of their room.
Next, when I’m your coach, I see your face, I know. You can’t fool me. You ride the bike, when you’re tired, you’re riding differently. So, power meters are excellent, but can only be a part of the whole picture. Alone, they cannot give you enough information.
PEZ: In the 70’s/80’s the East Europeans dominated amateur racing – how much was doping and how much was attitude and character?
Poland did not do doping, 100%. In Russia and Germany, I heard rumours, but did not see proof. I did not see it. It was much harder to know about things like that in those days. Everyone saw if suddenly a rider was winning races overnight, but could not prove why. In Poland, we were highly educated in our program to know and understand our health and our blood by watching our numbers and keeping them strong. A rider cannot ride well if they are anaemic. Anaemic means low red blood cells. This can happen by training too hard or not eating right. Some people have anaemia naturally and must watch closely to monitor it.
Athletes need oxygen to perform and oxygen is carried by the red blood cells. If red blood cells are low, a rider cannot ride well. If they are at maximum, a rider can ride best. For me, that is basic to performance, so I always watch. I told my riders, when they come and have 4.8, “You are athletically anaemic. When you come and are not over 5, I don’t want to talk to you. You come, I won’t select you, I give you advice, you must be close to 5.5 and upwards.”
Hemoglobin: 18 is maximum, you must be 17 plus. It’s a little different for women. I didn’t check all the time, I told riders, that’s their business. Some riders come and ask me about these numbers and I explain what it means for haemoglobin and hematocrit, what is red blood cells, what is white blood cells. I say when you have below 5000 white cells, you are healthy, because white are your soldiers. They kill and eat bacteria, so when you are high, more soldiers are released from the base. That’s simple.
First haemoglobin goes up and red blood cells follow. This is no secret, everyone knows this. Not my idea. Blood boosting is not doping. Doping means using a drug, something artificial. We didn’t know anything about blood boosting in the 60s, but we did know that the blood needed to be at high levels for good performance.
If red blood cells were low, we knew to eat red meat, spinach, other food that built blood. It takes time, but blood levels go up with healthy diet. Drugs destroy over time. Things like testosterone destroys your body. Amphetamines destroy your body. Athletes go to high altitude to increase red blood cells, even today. This is blood boosting naturally, by high altitude, and is still legal. It doesn’t destroy your body.
Transfusions are done every day for people who cannot clot blood (hemophiliacs) and used in hospitals and many places. When it’s done right, which is very important, it is very safe. It can help anaemic riders be more healthy. When I was racing on the National team, we monitored blood and everybody was compared to me when they had blood tests. Always I was ahead of everybody. But, after a 15 day stage race, I went from 5.5 – 5.7, a balance like this, to 4.4. I know my numbers; I went from 5 to 4.
Athletes cannot race well when their blood does not deliver enough oxygen. They are not robots. Blood boosting was something Ed Burke brought to me after reading about Lasse Viren’s performance in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. [Although Viren refuses to discuss it to this day most put the Finn’s two Olympic ‘doubles’ – 1972 and 1976 over 5,000 and 10,000 meters down to his being a pioneer of ‘blood doping’ where red cell rich blood is drawn off the athlete some weeks before an event then re-injected just before the event to boost the athlete’s blood’s oxygen carrying capability, ed.]
It made sense. It was legal. Freezing and storing an athlete’s own blood when red blood cells are high, then adding them back when they are depleted makes sense. When done right, it makes a rider healthy and does not cause harm. It is faster than altitude and diet in building blood, but with the same result. More red blood cells so he can get enough oxygen to perform at his best.
It “evens the playing field”, in the same way as athletes who need medical help for asthma or other health conditions receive help.
In America, cycling coaches do not usually have the intense medical training we must take in Poland, so it scares them to think about such ideas as working with blood, even though they know about the effect of altitude and diet on blood. Crazy diet programs can harm athletes’ health if they are not educated and monitoring effects. Athletes who go from sea level to 5000ft altitude find out how bad they feel without their blood adapting to get enough oxygen.
Blood boosting was cancelled was because it was a scandal in America. It was in the press! Needles in bodies! And they pushed the UCI, so UCI bent on this in 1986. That was a big problem. When blood boosting was banned, so came EPO. EPO increases red blood cells too, but it is by adding a substance to the blood, not natural. Riders would have been healthier with blood boosting.
EPO kills riders if done wrong. With EPO, guys don’t have any experience. Check this history. Their blood clots and this can kill riders in their sleep. Young professional riders died from EPO. Injections of EPO makes red blood cells glue together when you are not doing exercise. Glue together, in the night and guys clot and not wake up. So for me, banning blood boosting caused the murder of about 20 guys, Dutch and Belgian riders. They tried to keep this quiet. It’s all about having enough red blood cells to carry oxygen needed by the athlete to perform and stay healthy.
Blood boosting is not a bad idea. I never recommend it now because it’s illegal, but it makes sense. People who talk like it’s a bad thing don’t know what they’re talking about.
A young Lance with Subaru
PEZ: The ’84 LA ‘fall out’ must have hurt – they wanted medals and you delivered.
My greatest achievement was the 1984 Olympics. I had heard about the new drug testing program in 1983 and I was happy because I knew that suddenly we would have an advantage. The teams that boycotted knew that they couldn’t pass the new drug screening, that’s the real reason they didn’t come. I knew our team could pass all the tests. Testosterone with oil stays in your body for years. As far as I knew, no one on my team had taken anything that was illegal. The year after my greatest triumph was my most difficult. I looked for every advantage for my riders and we were very successful. More than I expected, too!
Everything we did was legal and was not illegal until 1986. People were jealous and all they could do was criticise and talk as though what we did was not legal. It was legal, and they knew it, but only talked about it after we won so many medals. Three of the four Gold medal winners did not use blood boosting, so that was not the reason they won. Maybe they were at altitude. Maybe they ate good food. There are other ways to boost blood. The negative talk was my reward for hard work. But it’s been over 30 years and no one has gotten results like mine. I am proud of the athletes I developed. I still would look for every advantage, everything that is legal. That is what top performers do, they look for advantage. As a coach, I can’t control everything my riders do, but I advise them on what’s legal, what’s healthy, and what is not. After that, they make a decision.
Young Greg Lemond with a few of his medals
PEZ: Which achievement by your riders are you most proud of?
The 1984 Olympics. I developed riders from the time they were Juniors until they were National, World, and Tour champions. I am very proud of the riders I developed. Lance Armstrong was with me for two years, I developed him, too. Mike Fraysse told me about him when he was still a triathlete. I coached him as a Junior and a Senior, for two years, then he went on to other teams. I am proud of all my riders, whether they liked me or not. I never forget my boys I developed. Rebecca Twigg was special. I discovered her and developed her. Lemond was always the diamond for achievement.
PEZ: What’s your main advice for a young rider just starting out?
Especially for parents: don’t push. Young riders have to work on technique, pedal stroke, next power comes and distance last. When parents push, bad habits may develop. Even Lemond, in my book, you see his pigeon toes? He rode like this, but he listened, was no problem, boom.
Develop technique slowly. In a kid’s first race, it’s a race for candies. It’s fine when not training. Exercise. For kids it is exercise. Serious cycling is supposed to be from age 16. It’s wrong to push children too young.
PEZ: Any regrets?
My regret is: I was crazy for cycling. My heart and my mind were dedicated to cycling, like nobody else. So for this reason, I put everything on cycling. Too much.
Effect was: I was divorced in Poland and I was divorced in the U.S. Here, my wife, now my ex-wife wife, told me every year during the Christmas Eve dinner how many days I was away from home. The average for these 12 years was 255 days. How you can keep marriage going like that?
Same in Poland, well a little bit different in Poland maybe, because it’s a small country, I went back home often. Here, when you go to Europe that’s a minimum of four weeks, maybe six weeks. In America, even if you go to the race in Texas, you are not coming the day before or leaving the day after. I was too dedicated, spending too much time coaching and not enough time with family. When I have many meetings now, when I speak to the people, I say “Follow me for everything except work load – because first is family, and second is job. Not first is cycling and next is family.”
That’s my big mistake. That’s what I’d like to tell to everybody. It’s about limits, and different priorities. Family first, then cycling.
Rest in Peace the great Eddie B, condolences from all at PEZ to his friends and family.
# Thanks to Sandra Wright Sutherland, without whom this interview would not have been possible. Sandra was working a book about ‘Mr. B’ to follow on from her tome on Audrey McElmury, the USA’s first world road champion in Brno back in 1969. #