RIO DE JANEIRO — When Connor Fields was 15, he wrote with sharpie on the wall of his parent’s garage, ‘One day I will be national and world champion.’
On Friday, Fields won the first-ever U.S. gold medal in men’s BMX racing when he crossed the finish line in 34.642, over half a second ahead of the rest of the field.
“When they finally said ‘Olympic Champion’ and my name, it was just surreal,” Fields said. “There’s still sharpie in my garage. I can't wait to take a picture with (this medal) right next to it. If only my 14 year-old self could see this now.”
Fields qualified second in his semifinal heat, posting 10 points across three runs, behind Australia’s Sam Willoughby. When the final heat came around, Fields took charge at the start and never gave up the lead.
“Once you’re in the final, everything gets wiped off the board and it’s just one time for glory,” Fields said. “I had the best start probably of my entire life. There was a moment where I came around the last corner and I realized I was winning and that 70 meters in front of me was an Olympic gold medal and I just told myself, ‘Get to the line.’”
Leading the eight riders around the course along with Fields was teammate Nic Long, who sat in second place until the final turn, when Jelle van Gorkom of the Netherlands squeezed inside to take silver. Long placed fourth as Carlos Ramirez Yepes of Colombia won the bronze medal in a photo finish.
Prior to the men’s race, the U.S. women also posted a pair of top-five finishes with Alise Post taking silver and Brooke Crain placing just outside the podium in fourth.
Only four months ago, an Olympic gold medal was not on the table for Fields, as he had surgery on a broken bone in his hand and had to wait for a coaches’ selection to the Olympic team two months ago.
The bone is his wrist is still broken. Knowing that if he were to crash on his wrist there would be a chance of permanent damage, Fields took the chance to race in Rio.
“I kind of had to bet on myself,” Fields said. “If I’m not going to bet on me, who else is going to bet on me?”
The 2016 Games were not the first go-around for Fields, as he finished seventh at the London Games in 2012. Unlike this time around, he won all of his semifinal heats but failed to perform in the final.
Described as one of the worst feelings, Fields knew that just making it into the final after a good semifinals would not be enough to achieve his goals and avoid feeling the same way he felt in 2012.
“Once I was in the final, the mindset changed,” Fields said. “The last thing my coach said to me before I went up the hill was, ‘Remember how you felt in London and remember how terrible that was? Well here’s your chance. Go get it.’ That turned the fire on inside of me and gave me that little edge I needed.”
Rather than disappointment and the end of the final, Fields felt pure happiness.
“I crossed that finish line and just dropped to my knees,” Fields said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Nicole Chrzanowski is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.