EXCLUSIVE: Freed POW's dad was a champion cyclist who became disillusioned with America after boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics over war in
Afghanistan destroyed his Gold Medal dreams
Bob Bergdahl was a champion cyclist who became disillusioned with the US Government when it boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, it emerged today.
Bergdahl – the father of under-fire POW Bowe Bergdahl – was devastated when the US pulled out of the Games, citing Russia’s invasion of
The talented athlete had been selected for the US cycling team and was in line to be picked for the Moscow Olympics
This comes as the brother-in-law of freed Bowe, the husband of his sister Sky, tells MailOnline that the Bergdahl family does not have sympathies with
the Taliban and said that there was a ‘deeper story’ to emerge.
Ironically, the beef Bowe’s dad Bob has with the US Government began long before the war with theTaliban.
Following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter issued an ultimatum on January 20, 1980 that the United States would boycott
the Moscow Olympics if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan.
The political move shattered Bob’s dreams and left his hopes of making it as a professional athlete in tatters. He had trained hard for years to
reach the form needed to compete at the very highest level in cycling.
The image of Bob Bergnahl as all-American athlete with Olympic credentials flies in the face of how the father of two has been so far portrayed.
With his long scraggly beard, anti-Government sentiment and an apparent obsession with the Afghan culture and language, many Americans have written
him off as a loon.
But one of Bob’s close friends, Chip Deffe, says that is far from the truth.
Chip, 54, does concede however, that Bob has always questioned the Government about its decision.
‘Bob was devastated about missing the Olympics,’ said Chip.
‘He had worked so hard for the chance to compete at the Olympics and then suddenly it was snatched away.
‘Anyone would be upset, he was so passionate about racing and had made the US national team as a track racer.
‘He was a world-class athlete and set for big things and was supposed to travel to Moscow until we boycotted the Games.
‘He wasn’t at all happy with the Government, he couldn’t understand it and became disillusioned.’
Chip says Bob, now 55, was deeply dejected and walked away from cycling, vowing never to ride a bike again.
‘Bob was a real talent, he was reaching the peak of his physical fitness and would have had a real chance in Moscow.
‘But missing his first shot at the Olympics because of a decision made by the US Government, how would you feel? Bob was frustrated, it completely
shattered his love of cycling.’
Ironically, one of Bob’s peers on the cycling scene was legendary racer Greg LeMond.
The pair were photographed cycling next to each other in a 1978 race in Acton, California.
On the back of the black and white photo it says: ‘“The Break” Bob Bergdahl & the great Greg LeMond Olympic Develop(ment) Acton, Ca 1978.”
LeMond was also selected for the US team in 1980 and was set to compete in Moscow.
Bob will have likely traveled to the Games with LeMond by his side.
But in stark contrast to Bob, LeMond didn’t let the political situation bring him down and continued cycling, reaching amazing heights.
The Californian won the cycling World Championship twice and the Tour de France three times after becoming the first professional non-European cyclist
to win the epic race in 1986.
Meanwhile, Bob left California and settled in Hailey, Idaho where he became a UPS delivery driver and started a family with wife Jani.
Friend Chip, who owns Sun Summit South bike maintenance shop in Hailey where Bob currently works, said Bob didn’t ride his bike for decades.
Amazingly, it took the heartbreak of son Bowe being kidnapped and held captive by the Taliban in 1999 before he would jump back into the saddle.
‘Bob was having a hard time after Bowe was captured so his wife Jani suggested he get back on his bike,” Chip said.
‘It was the best thing he could have done, he is a real disciple of cycling, he gets a buzz off it.
‘He rediscovered his love for the sport and it has really helped him through this last five years.’
Today Bob regularly competes in races across Idaho and travels around America to fulfill his ambition to cycle in every velodrome in the US.
He owns several mountain and racing bikes and has recently ordered a brand new bike, the frame of which hangs in Chip’s shop waiting to be built.
Every Thursday Chip, Bob and a group of friends all get together to ride.
‘He refers to them as the “band of brothers”, we call it the Thursday night beat down.
‘When all this news came out about Bowe being released, all the guys called to congratulate Bob.’
And Chip says his friend even called him over the weekend to say he wouldn’t be coming into work this week.
‘He’s got plenty on his mind right now,’ Chip said.
‘But there was never any doubt in Bob and Jani’s minds that Bowe was coming home, they have been the most resilient people I have ever met.’
Bob has in the past described a prisoner swap as a ‘win-win’ situation as he would get his son back and the US would improve relations with the
Critics pointed out that just a few days before his son was released, Bob tweeted to a Taliban spokesman that, 'I am still working to free all
'God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, amen,' he added.
This tweet, which was later deleted, has drawn the ire of some conservative activists, who say it is evidence of possible conversion or a cover up.
Bob spoke Arabic and Pashto at the Rose Garden press conference with President Barack Obama announcing the release of his son on Saturday. Some
critics have said that raises questions about Bob’s loyalties.
He has become an active anti-war campaigner and spoken out against drone strikes and Guantanamo.
'Folks, this is either a very bad case of Stockholm Syndrome or something far more nefarious is at stake,' wrote former Republican Congressman Allen
West, who labeled the message a 'smoking gun.'
In a video posted by the Guardian newspaper, Bob told photographer Sean Smith: 'I don't work for the military. I don't work for the government. I
don't represent the American people. I'm a father who wants his son back.'
Some activists have picked up on other tweets from Bob, as well.
In March, he wrote, '‘Democracy’ is a cult in the West' in response to a comment about the Afghan elections.
He also raised eyebrows when, in a press conference, he said the family's hometown of Hailey, Idaho, 'We're so much like Afghanistan.'
In a 2011 video message to Bowe's captors, Bob said: 'Strangely to some we must also thank those who have cared for our son for almost two years.
'We know our son is a prisoner and at the same time a guest in your home.'
But Chip says that Bob grew his beard when his son was captured and also studied Islam and Taliban culture only to better understand his son’s
These were, he says, the acts of a desperate father and not a sympathiser for the Taliban or radical Islamic ideas.
‘He really tried to understand what was going on, he studied their history, the language, in his own way he was able to build a connection with
And as for the criticism of his family currently sweeping America.
Chip said: ‘Bob told me, “I don’t care, I have a mission here.’ What everyone has been saying is wrong, Bob is a normal guy from a normal
family going through a trying time.
‘He doesn’t care what all these arm-chair quarterbacks are saying.’
Chip does say that Bob doesn’t agree with the war in Afghanistan – a view held by many Americans.
‘Bob and I were born in 1960, a time of JFK and Martin Luther King, the whole hippy thing and John Lennon, it was all about peace.
‘In any society there are good guys and bad guys, but Bob believes there are diplomatic routes to pursue, not always war.
‘Bob is very grateful what the Government has done to get his son back, but does the Government tell us everything, people like Bob question
‘He’s just a normal guy cast in a very abnormal place and he’d dealt with it very admirably.’
Bowe’s brother-in-law spoke to MailOnline and what he said chimed with Chip’s comments.
He denied that the Bergdahl family had sympathies with the Taliban and said that there was a ‘deeper story’ to emerge.
Michael Albrecht, a US navy pilot married to Bowe’s sister Sky said it was ‘rubbish’ that Bob had any loyalties to the Taliban or Islam.
‘It makes no logical sense,’ said Albrecht, 38, wearing his US Navy uniform complete with a badge of the Black Knights, the elite fighter
‘He has no sympathies with the Taliban. Just because he speaks a few words of Pashto.
‘There are guys on my base that do that. You wouldn’t accuse them of having sympathies.’
Initial euphoria over the release of Sgt Bergdahl, 28, America’s only prisoner of war in Afghanistan, after five years has led to a growing
Critics accuse him of having deserted to the other side and others claim that their relatives were killed trying to rescue him.
They have also claimed that his father’s long beard and sympathy with the people of Afghanistan suggest an element of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ has
Some have even called for an investigation and for charges to be pressed against the former serviceman.
But Albrecht said that while he had the ‘utmost respect’ for servicemen killed in the war, he said that the backlash felt like a script from the
hit television program Homeland.
‘We don’t want to comment yet, in respect to our parents,’ he said.
‘There is a passion there. There will be a time when the family wants to speak. The truth will come out.
‘There is a deeper story there.’
Speaking at his home in Pebble Beach, California, he said that it was above all a time for celebration.
‘It is a time of celebration, he said. ‘We are just waiting for Bowe to come home.’
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