Like baseball's No. 24 Willie Mays and No. 9 Ted Williams, Mike Day has had the same number throughout his professional career. It's 365, and Day plans to wear it in Beijing when he represents the U.S. in the inaugural Olympic BMX competition.
"When you turn pro, they always give you a number in the 300s," he said, "and with my name on the back, it said: 365 Day. Everyone talked about it, and I said, ‘That's it. That's going to be my number.' I'll pretty much wear it till I'm done racing."
The name-number combo is also an accurate summary of Day's riding career. BMX has been a 365-day-a-year endeavor since the California native took his first spin on a dirt track, on his ninth birthday.
When Day was 10, he had already earned a "factory ride" from Answer, a bike company that supplied him with gear and helped to finance his travels. It didn't hurt that BMX was also family affair (a passion shared by his two brothers, Dave and Matt) and had a built-in social element in his Los Angeles neighborhood. The Santa Clarita track was only 10 minutes from Day's house, and it was "the place" to be on Friday nights.
Day was so devoted to BMX that he never played high school sports, but he did work a brief stint in a smoothie shop before discovering, "It wasn't for me."
He was also a good student, or as his father, Steve, put it: "one of those kids who was afraid not to have his homework done."
Day's favorite classes were in architecture, where he was inspired by a woman he calls "the coolest teacher ever." (They remain in contact.) She encouraged him to enter a competition, and Day's floor plan placed third among all Southern California students in the AutoCAD division, which utilized computer drafting software.
Day received a $100 reward, but the money didn't go toward new bike parts.
"I got a ticket driving down [to the awards ceremony]," he said. "I made a left hand turn on a no-left turn, so that's where the $100 went."
After graduating from high school in 2002, he turned pro.
In April 2004, he beat a rider who would eventually become his coach.
"I remember it exactly," said Greg Romero. "It was in Monterey, in the city of Prunedale, California. We were in a qualifying [heat] together. In the last straightaway, this kid blew by me like I was standing still. I thought, ‘Holy Crap! This guy's got a future. He just beat me and I just had the perfect lap.'"
They began working together in 2005. Day's skills were already apparent. "He has the best bike-handling talent in the world by far," Romero said, "And that's not just my opinion. It's his, too," he laughed.
"He also had that mental confidence," Romero said. "He had developed a winning mindset because he'd been part of a team that had been winning a long time."
But Day lacked strength and power, so Romero sent him to the gym.
"We threw stuff at him in 3-4 month blocks to see how his body responded. At first, he responded tremendously," Romero said. "Two weeks before the World Championships, that's when he had the confidence to do well, and he came in second behind Bubba Harris."
That year, Day not only captured the silver medal at the 2005 UCI World Championships in Paris, he also finished the season ranked as the No. 1 elite men's rider in the National Bicycle League (NBL). In 2006, Day won his second world championship medal, a bronze, in Rio de Janeiro.
In 2008, however, he skipped the Worlds, which concluded in China just 12 days before the Olympic Trials. Instead, he stayed home, stayed fresh, and prepared for Trials at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, where he is a resident athlete. The decision paid dividends.
The Olympic Trials, on June 14, began with a time trial, a one-at-a-time race against the clock. Day won it, which he had expected, so he was given a choice of lanes for the first moto, or heat.
"I picked the outside lane, which is really uncommon," he said. "I figured everyone on the inside would ball each other up." Ultimately, nobody tangled up, but Day won the heat anyway.
For the second moto, Day chose Lane 6 again. "I thought I was going to get the hole shot," he said, "but I over-jumped the first jump." He placed second.
Day won the third moto, and it put him so far ahead in points that the final heat did not need to be contested.
Day's father was watching in the stands along with Day's brothers. "I could see after the third moto, there was some action in the distance," Steve Day recalled. "Then Mike looked up at all of us. He raised both hands, and I had a feeling he did it. I can't say I was crying, but I did well up."
Day had earned a berth to Beijing on a course that was designed to be identical to the Beijing track. "It was a pretty good win," he said. "I've won a couple of big races, but nothing compared to that amount of pressure."
The technical Olympic track suits him well.
"I'm known as a skill-type guy," he said, explaining, "I'm good through the turns and jumps."
At 6-foot-3, 205 lbs, Day is also one of the tallest riders, which enables him to get his back wheel up high over the jumps and his additional weight on landing gives him additional momentum on the straightaways.
His plan for he next month is to stay in Chula Vista where he can practice the sport for which he is most passionate, but whose residency rules keep him from his other love: his 2-year-old brown and white English Bulldog named "Tater."
Although Tater will not make the trip to Beijing, Day said, "I try to take him to as many races as I can. When I'm warming up, he'll chase me around. For 100 feet, he's really fast, but after 10 minutes, he's blown out."
It could be a while before Tater has a career number.
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.