Maris Strombergs of Latvia (center) won his second straight gold in men’s BMX. (Robert Beck/SI)
LONDON — Before repeating as Olympic champion in men’s BMX, Maris Strombergs left his home in California to spend two and a half months training near his birthplace of Valmiera, Latvia. The reason was that for the better part of two years, his coach, former BMX Olympian Ivo Lakucs, and an associate had been clandestinely working on their Valmiera Project: a DIY replica of the London Olympics BMX track. They paid for it out of pocket, without government assistance, and moved and shaped the dirt themselves. Lakucs would not reveal how much it cost. All he said was, “We spent all of [Maris'] money.”
He seemed to be kidding. But even if it did serious damage to Stromberg’s bank account, it was worth it. The rider known as “The Machine” deftly navigated the hellacious (and crash-happy) London course on Friday, pedaling strong out of the gate and having little trouble with the early S-turn that had once been his weakness. (“That’s why I built that track,” Lakucs said, “so he can feel better on the S-turn.”) Strombergs had no challengers in the final straightaway, winning by 0.353 seconds ahead of the pre-Olympic favorite, Australia’s Sam Willoughby.