Connor Fields qualified for the London Games on June 16 at the BMX trials in Chula Vista, California.
CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- Twelve months ago, Connor Fields nearly quit BMX racing due to repeated injuries that led to a lengthy layoff. On Saturday, Fields earned the opportunity to represent the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The 19-year-old from Henderson, Nev., garnered his nomination to the Games after outlasting an elite field of eight riders to win the U.S. Olympic Trials at the at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. All nominations are subject to approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“I was seriously thinking about quitting the sport,” recalled Fields, who missed eight months of action due to a right knee (and subsequent surgery) before returning in June 2011. “It was the hardest period of my life. I was feeling depressed — I wouldn’t come out of my room — but it was exactly the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Over the past year, I have a whole new outlook at life and racing.”
Racing under perfect conditions — a slight ocean breeze under cloud-less skies at 76 degrees — Fields flew out of the starting grid in the main event in the gate-to-wire victory, defeating Mike Day, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in Beijing, and lifelong rival Corben Sharrah.
“I’ve known and raced against Corben since we were both 8 — I feel so fortunate to have been born in 1992 and been able to compete against him all these years,” Fields said. “Then I got hurt in October 2010. But now it’s no longer a chore to come out here to compete, it’s an opportunity. I now have a true love for what I get to do. The injury was a blessing in disguise.”
The track, a replica mirroring the one to be used in London, is considered a fair track that allows for passing. However, few riders were able to overtake the leaders through a series of motos (qualifying heats) and the final.
“Everyone says it’s an easier track to pass people, but I actually believe it’s more difficult because of a series of small turns rather than big sweeping turns,” Fields said. “With such high banking, you can maintain your line in the turns and keep others off you. After you muscle through the start, it’s a very fair track.”
With his powerful start from the No. 2 spot in the starting grid, Fields was first through the initial series of jumps, allowing him to move low into the first turn. Sharrah stayed on Fields’ back wheel, but never was able to mount a serious opportunity to overtake the leader.
“At the start, it was all about muscle and leg speed,” Fields said. “Then it’s all about bike-riding, which makes the track fair — it’s a bit of finesse and a bit of power.”
Day did pass Sharrah on the third of the track’s four straightaways to take second place. Sharrah placed third, while Barry Nobles, who now races out of Menifee, Calif., was fourth.
But the winner-take-all race for an Olympic team berth belonged to Fields from the start. His final time of 38.203 seconds in the final was the best of the day outside of the time trials.
“It didn’t matter what you did in the motos as long as you reached the final,” Fields said. “So I basically took the final moto off, which allowed me to feel pretty fresh for the final. I know and understand my body, especially after being injured last season, which allowed to better gauge what do to today. So I did the bare minimum to get to the final."
“All that matters is the final and that one moment of getting to the final and winning the final. It doesn’t matter if you won every lap leading up to that.”Qualifying
In the motos, Fields easily took the first of the qualifying races, breezing across the line, followed by a late-finishing Sharrah. The riders exchanged positions in the second heat, which saw Donny Robinson and Joey Bradford get eliminated from the competition.
The final moto, which trimmed the field to the final four riders, saw Sharrah break away entering the second turn to claim his second straight heat. Eliminated were Josh Meyers and hometown favorite Nic Long of Lakeside, Calif.
In the time trails to open the qualifying, Sharrah muscled his way through the course with a top mark of 37.964 seconds among his two qualification runs, Connor was second at 38.229, while Long utilized a fluid style to better negotiate the jumps to finish a surprising third in 39.047
Already named to Team USA for the London Games were David Herman on the men’s team and Arielle Martin on the women’s team. Both were ranked No. 1 in the USA Cycling BMX Power Rankings and therefore did not have to compete in the Trials. The United States qualified the maximum number of slots for London (three men, two women).
In addition to Fields, Long and Alise Post were nominated to the U.S. Olympic Team at the BMX Hall of Fame dinner Saturday at the visitor’s center on the OTC campus. The 2012 Hall of Fame class includes: Eric Carter (BMX racer), John Palfreyman Jr. (Pioneer BMX racer), Windy Osborn (BMX Woman), Steve Johnson (BMX Industry), Mat Hoffman (BMX Freestyler) and the 2008 Olympic team of Mike Day, Donny Robinson, Kyle Bennett and Jill Kintner.