TREXLERTOWN, Pa. (AP) _ Marty Nothstein, the top U.S. sprint cyclist, has a competitive streak just like his great-grandfather, who raced big-wheeled bicycles and earned his room and board with bare-knuckled prize fights a century ago.

``There's a bit of that old man in him,'' said Marty's father, Wayne.

A bit of the athlete and a bit of the fighter.

Nothstein's journey as seven-time national champion, two-time world champion and gold medal favorite in the 200-meter sprint at the Atlanta Olympics began with a rock and a neighbor's garage in 1987 when he was 15.

Nothstein's younger brother tossed a stone at the house and, being the competitor he was, Marty had to see if he could throw one farther.

``I was just a typical kid,'' Nothstein said, shrugging. ``It was nothing major. No windows were broken.''

But the house's owner, Heinz Walter, was ticked off. The manager of a cycling team the nearby Lehigh Valley Velodrome, he paid a visit to the Nothsteins and suggested Marty consider racing a few laps down at the track.

Otherwise, he could always summon the cops.

So Nothstein, using a loaner bike and helmet, learned to ride.

Although he wasn't built like other cyclists _ the strapping 6-foot-2, 215-pounder starred in football, baseball and wrestling in high school _ Nothstein quickly discovered this was his calling.

``I would have liked to keep playing other sports, but I am one of the best cyclists in the world,'' Nothstein said. ``I was never going to be the world's best football player or the best baseball player.''

Within a year, Nothstein was the national junior match sprint champion.

He served as an alternate at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics before winning his first national sprint title in 1993, and he won two gold medals at the 1994 World Championships, the best performance ever for a U.S. rider.

Although Nothstein is not as aerodynamic as the typical rider, he makes up for it with his strength, said Craig Griffin, one of the U.S. coaches.

``Aerodynamics is very important, but having a well-trained, fit athlete is much more important,'' Griffin said. ``Nothstein knows how to make the most of his size.''

Nothstein's crowning achievement came at the U.S. cycling trials when he earned his first Olympic berth in the 200-meter sprint before a record hometown crowd of 5,261 at Trexlertown.

The next night, against the advice of almost everyone, Nothstein rode and won the keirin, a menacing race in which a group of jostling riders draft behind a motorcycle going 30 mph until 1 1/2 laps remain. The motorcycle then accelerates and pulls off the track, leaving the riders to sprint for the finish.

Marty's father said racing has always been in his son's blood.

Before his rock-throwing incident introduced him to the velodrome, ``we had him on Motocross bicycles, motorcycles, all-terrains,'' said Wayne Nothstein, who owns an auto dealership a stone's throw from the cycling track.

``He was just a little daredevil, he liked to have that edge. It's sort of built in him. He likes thrills, he likes excitement. He always seemed to want to race, whether it was a foot race or whatever. He wanted to be a racer.''

Just like his great-grandfather a century ago.

Wayne Nothstein's prized possession _ besides his airline ticket to Atlanta _ is a yellowed newspaper clipping with the headline: ``Martin Alexander Nothstein, Road Race Champion.''

The story says that after winning a dirt-road race in a small Pennsylvania town, ``he was carried off on his friends' shoulders and then fought two rounds of closed-fist boxing to show his friends that he had a lot of steam left.''

``He was quite a man,'' said Wayne Nothstein, who named Marty after him. ``I sort of had a dream that this one I would name Martin, and he would be a bicycle racer. People might think I'm a cuckoo, but me and my wife know that's what I said the day before he was born.''

End advance