When Eric Heiden arrives in Washington Saturday night, the multi-medaled Olympian has only one friend he wants to call -- Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
"When I was in Washington last winter for the Special Olympics, I missed my plane . . . so Sen. Kennedy (whose sister Eunice Shriver had organized the event) invited me over to his house for dinner," the 22-year-old Midwesterner said. "I really liked the guy.I'll at least call him up and invite him to the race."
The race Heiden referred to is the unofficial kickoff of the competivie bike racing season -- the National Capital Open Bicycle Races scheduled for Sunday on the Ellipse. Heiden and his six teammates on the 7-Eleven/Schwinn bicycle team will compete in the senior men's race slated to begin at 2 p.m.
Heiden, who glided into the hearts of Americans during the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics when he humbly won five individual gold medals, has quit speed skating and is concentrating on bicycle racing.
"I like it better than skating," Heiden said yesterday in a telephone interview from a makeshift training camp near Milwaukee. "There was just too much pressure on me with skating."
"With bicycle racing no one knows what I can do," he said.
Although Heiden is listed as a nationally ranked bicyclist, he has not won a major bike race in recent months, quite a change from his 1980 speed-skating blitz when it seemed the golden boy from Wisconsin was incapable of losing. But Heiden denies that there is a letdown associated with his new amateur career.
"I didn't look at it as being a big deal at the time, so I don't feel disappointed or anything now," Heiden said of his Olympic victories. He adds that he "thinks" his five gold medals are "home somewhere."
Heiden, a premedical student at the University of California at San diego, is embarking on a five-month bicycle racing tour this weekend, but said he plans to dismount in September and "shrine" everything else in favor of his studies. "That's Midwestern for quit," he said.
For several weeks the seven-member Schwinn team has been preparing for the racing season by training in Wisconsin. Heiden says he rises every day at 8, lifts weights and is on his bicycle by 10. He and his teammates undergo a grueling five-hour training period on their bicycles until 3 o'clock. Then Heiden eats and settles down to a long evening of reading Hunter S. Thompson and "watching the Bucks lose on TV -- it's very boring."
Heiden, who narrowly missed qualifying for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, says he is excited about the upcoming racing season and predicts that he will finish in the "top 20 or so" racers in Sunday's 100-racer field.
Surprisingly, the long-range goals the bicycle racer has set for himself are not all that lofty, either.
"I just don't want to fall down all year," Heiden said, laughing.