Fields earns Olympic berth at men's BMX trials
Connor Fields didn't leave anything to chance with his Olympic dreams.
The 19-year-old Fields won the U.S. men's BMX trials on Saturday in Chula Vista, Calif., earning an automatic spot on the three-man team for the London Games. Fields finished in 38.203 seconds to hold off Mike Day, who clocked 38.623 over a replica of the Olympic course.
Corben Sharrah finished third and Barry Nobles finished fourth.
"It's like a lifetime accumulation of hard work and dedication, a genuine love of what I do," Fields said. "I came in knowing that I just had to win one lap and I would be in."
He ended up winning the one lap that mattered most.
Nic Long joined Fields on the U.S. team late Saturday night, when he was announced as the discretionary pick. David Herman had already qualified by leading USA Cycling's power rankings.
Arielle Martin earned the automatic nod for the women's team by leading the power rankings, and Alise Post joined her on the Olympic team as the discretionary pick.
"There is a lot of sacrifice - time away from home, time away from my husband - but I wouldn't trade it for anything," Martin said. "The sacrifice has been worth it."
Fields has been the best rider most of this season, becoming the first to win three straight World Cup finals from the end of last year through the beginning of this year.
The ultra-confident Fields had been leading the power rankings until a disappointing result at last month's world championships. That gave Herman the first spot on the Olympic team and left Fields to contest the trials, even though he assumed that he would make the team anyway.
"It was an advantage knowing that I was a shoe-in for the coaches' selection, and I even considered not racing this race and just rolling out," he said, "but I thought about it for a few days. That's not who I am. I'm a racer and enjoy it, and it was an advantage not having pressure the other guys had. I was able to relax up there and didn't need to win this to go."
That almost cavalier attitude stands in stark contrast to where Fields was 18 months ago.
He had achieved tremendous success as a junior, making three podiums at major events and showing signs of future stardom. But his right knee had been causing pain, and reached the point where he could no longer ride without feeling as though his kneecap was grinding against bone.
He was diagnosed with patellofemoral pain syndrome, which is a relatively common condition among athletes. Cartilage in the knee thins and softens, creating painful rubbing in the joint.
Fields elected to have surgery in March 2011 called a lateral release, which alleviated some of the pain but also knocked him off the track until midway through last season.
Once he got back on it, he got up to speed in a hurry.
First came in the strong results at the end of last season, including a World Cup victory over the course in Chula Vista, and then two more wins to start this season. That string of success, along with a couple other impressive showings this spring, stamped Fields as one of a handful of riders who have been considered the Olympic favorites.
Of course, he had to qualify for the Olympics first.
Fields and Sharrah finished first and second in the opening moto, and then swapped spots in the second moto. Sharrah won the third moto before Fields stormed to victory in the finals.
The result left USA Cycling officials with a difficult decision on their discretionary pick, but they ultimately opted for Long over Sharrah and Day, the reigning Olympic silver medalist.
"Can't be bummed on today! No regrets," Day said on Twitter. "Thanks to everyone who has supported me through this journey!"
As for the riders heading to London, well, the journey is only beginning.
"We have been racing the top riders the last four years and we raced them two weeks ago at the world championships, and three weeks before that in Holland," Fields said. "We know what we are getting into."
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