Olympian Mark Whitehead dead at 50

USA Cycling has confirmed the death of Mark Whitehead, a member of U.S. Olympic track cycling team in 1984.

USA Cycling has confirmed the death of Mark Whitehead, a member of U.S. Olympic track cycling team in 1984.

Tom Moran photo

Whitehead, 50, died while attending the USA Cycling junior track national championships in Texas, but details regarding the cause of his death were not available.

Whitehead had served as coach and mentor to several successful track and road riders, including multiple world champion Sarah Hammer and U.S. criterium specialist Rahsaah Bahati.

In a brief release issued late Wednesday, USA Cycling noted that it had learned “of the unfortunate passing of Mark Whitehead while in Texas attending the Juniors Track National Championships.

“USA Cycling would like to extend its deepest condolences to family, friends and athletes of the former professional cyclist and 1984 track cycling Olympian.

“No further details are available at this time. ”

Whitehead held 20 national championship titles, including the team pursuit in 1984, which contributed to his selection to the U.S. team for 1984 Los Angeles Games. Whitehead had a reputation as a cagey, but often volatile, track strategist who had, on several occasions, been sanctioned for both on- and off-track outbursts. Whitehead’s reputation as a temperamental rider led fellow competitors to label him with the friendly moniker “Meat Head.”

The nickname was something Whitehead embraced. Ever the jokester, Whitehead would exclaim after a victory, “Ya can’t beat the Meat!”

Whitehead was among those 1984 Olympians who were targeted in a post-Olympic scandal involving blood-doping, a practice that was, at the time, not prohibited under UCI or Olympic rules. The ensuing scandal led to the eventual adoption of rules banning the practice in all sports that fall under the authority of the International Olympic Committee and, later, the World Anti-Doping Agency. The practice was banned by the U.S. Cycling Federation (USCF) in January of 1985.

He was briefly married to fellow cyclist Rebecca Twigg.

He is survived by his second wife and three children, Ian, Pete and Davey.