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It’s Make Or Break Time For U.S. Track Cyclists Hoping To Qualify For The Olympics

By Stuart Lieberman | March 01, 2016, 4:55 p.m. (ET)

Sarah Hammer competes in the women's omnium flying start race at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships held at National Velodrome on Feb. 22, 2015 in Paris.

More than 50,000 tickets have already been sold for this week’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships, the final major international track cycling competition before the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

The championships will take place from March 2-6 at Lee Valley VeloPark in London — a hotbed city for the sport.

Nine athletes will compete for the United States in London, with three of them having the opportunity to earn their spots at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games before the full U.S. Olympic Track Cycling Team is named prior to March 18.

Here’s a look at the three U.S. athletes hoping to punch their tickets to Rio:

Sarah Hammer

Two-time Olympian Hammer needs a top-three finish in the omnium at the world championships to secure a trip to her third Olympic Games. The 32-year-old was a two-time silver medalist at the London 2012 Olympic Games, finishing second in both the omnium and team pursuit — an improvement upon her fifth-place individual pursuit performance at the Beijing 2008 Games.

Hammer has been living at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, since June 2013, working to turn her Olympic silver medals into gold medals. She’s ranked No. 2 in the world in the ominum, an event often described as cycling’s version of the decathlon, as it’s contested over two days and six events. Riders compete in a flying one-lap time trial, points race, elimination race, individual pursuit, scratch race and time trial.

Hammer is a seven-time world champion — five individual pursuit titles and two ominum titles — and won gold in the ominum at the 2015 Pan American Games. If all goes according to plan in London, expect to see Hammer as one of NBC’s featured faces at Rio 2016 later this year.

Matt Baranoski

Baranoski, who became the youngest U.S. elite track cycling national champion at 17, is ranked fourth in the world right now in the keirin and will be going for his first world championships podium. A top-six finish in London would qualify Baranoski for Rio 2016.

The Perkasie, Pennsylvania, native competes in the keirin, which literally translates as “fight.” For the opening laps, riders must stay behind a motorbike that paces them with increasing speed, and with 2.5 laps to go the race is on after it exits the track.

Baranoski is peaking at the right time, having won the national title in his event last August, and more recently notching a third-place finish at December’s UCI World Cup in Cambridge, New Zealand. The 23-year-old, who spends the majority of time training with his father, Michael, has put his electrical engineering studies at Penn State on hold for the moment, but plans to return and graduate next winter.

Jake Duehring

Duehring, who finished second to Bobby Lea in national championship omnium, will compete on the world stage after Lea received a 16-month suspension in December for an anti-doping violation. Although he’s 31, Duehring, who hails from Irvine, California, is still a relative newcomer to the international cycling stage, having taken part in his first UCI World Championships in 2014.

He needs a top-three finish in London to punch his ticket to Rio. For someone whose sporting hero is nine-time Olympic champion swimmer Mark Spitz and would work in sports marketing if he wasn’t a professional cyclist, securing a trip to his first Olympic Games would be the accomplishment of a lifetime for Duehring.

Other Team USA athletes competing at the world championships include: Kelly Catlin (team pursuit, individual pursuit), Chloe Dygert (team pursuit), Kim Geist (points race), Jennifer Valente (team pursuit, individual pursuit, scratch race), Ruth Winder (team pursuit) and Ian Holt (points race).

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Sarah Hammer

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Matt Baranoski