Connor Fields competes in the men's BMX final at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 at the Olympic BMX Center on Aug. 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Connor Fields has won just about every prize there is in BMX racing. Trophies and medals from world cups and national championships line shelves in his house. On the wall hangs a framed rainbow jersey — given to cycling world champions — from one of his world championships time trial wins (in 2012 and 2013). The time trial, however, is a race against the clock, not the head-to-head BMX races featuring eight riders.
And a corner of Fields’ trophy room is dedicated to his Olympic gold medal win in Rio last summer.
But the 24-year-old rider has one major gap in this collection: a rainbow jersey from the UCI BMX World Championships elite men’s race.
Fields could win his first world title this weekend at the 2017 UCI BMX World Championships in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
This is the first time in 16 years that BMX worlds are being held in the United States. And should Fields or one of his teammates win, it would be the first time a Team USA athlete has won the world BMX title since Donny Robinson claimed it in 2009. Robinson won an Olympic bronze medal a year prior, at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.
It’s been 20 years since an American woman won the BMX world title. Michelle Cairns, who won in 1997, is the only U.S. woman to date who has won a world championship gold medal.
Here’s a look at Team USA’s favorites competing in Rock Hill this weekend.
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Olympic silver medalist Alise Post leads a field of five American women in Rock Hill on Saturday. After winning eight of 12 USA BMX competitions this year, plus the USA Cycling national title, she is one of the favorites to add a gold medal to the silver and bronze medals that she won at the 2014 and 2016 worlds, respectively.
But it’s been a tumultuous year for Post, whose glory in Rio was followed by near tragedy less than a month later. On Sept. 10, 2016, her fiancé, Australian BMX rider Sam Willoughby — 2012 Olympic silver medalist and a two-time world champion — crashed while training on the Chula Vista BMX track near San Diego and broke vertebrae in his neck which compressed his spinal cord. Initially, he had no movement from his chest down. But he has slowly regained feeling in his arms and legs. His goal, he told Australian media after the crash, was to be able to walk Post down the aisle at their wedding later this year.
Post is helping Willoughby recover, and he in turn has helped her prepare for the 2017 world championships, he recently told his hometown newspaper in Australia, the Adelaide Messenger.
Rounding out the women’s squad is Dani George, Shealen Reno, Mika Shaw, and 2015 Pan American Games champion Felicia Stancil, who finished second at nationals in July behind Post.
Unfortunately, Brooke Crain, who finished a heartbreaking fourth at the 2016 Olympic Games and is the top American woman in UCI rankings, is not competing at world championships. Although originally listed as one of USA Cycling’s 18 pros competing at worlds, Crain is recovering from an undisclosed injury.
The U.S. men’s team, with 11 entrants, is loaded with talent. Fields, the reigning Olympic champion, is just one of three men on the team who are favorites to contend for a medal at the 2017 world championships.
Nic Long comes to Rock Hill looking for redemption from his fourth-place finish in Rio. In the 2016 Olympic men’s final, initial results showed Long tied for third. He had led the first part of the race, before Fields passed him with one turn remaining. But after the race, officials used a video replay to determine that Long finished a tire width behind, not tied with, Colombian Carlos Ramirez Yepes. So he missed out on an Olympic medal.
Long knows what it’s like to contend for a medal at world championships. The 27-year-old BMX rider finished third in 2016 — the first medal for Team USA in the men’s elite race since 2009. That finish, along with his fourth place in Rio, gave Long a berth on the 2017 world championships team.
Also a 2016 Olympian, Corben Sharrah is currently the top-ranked rider in the world. In addition, 25-year-old Sharrah won the USA Cycling elite national title this year (with Jared Garcia and Fields finishing second and third, respectively). Sharrah qualified for the world championships team after winning the overall 2016 world cup and leading the UCI rankings last year.
Then there’s Fields, who’s currently the top American in USA BMX standings. He sits in second behind France’s Joris Daudet, the defending world champion. Fields came into the 2017 season rehabbing his left wrist. He initially broke a bone in his hand in April 2016 and had surgery to stabilize it going to Rio. He won gold in Rio, but the four screws limited his range of motion. So in December 2016, his surgeon removed two of the screws.
After the second surgery, Fields was back racing in mid-February and winning by mid-April. A month later, he finished third in round two, then won round three of the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup.
Should Fields win the world title in Rock Hill, he could hang the rainbow jersey next to the sentence that he wrote on his parents’ garage wall when he was 15 years old: “One day I will be national and world champion.”
That day could come on Saturday.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.