Each month, Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. BMX racer Connor Fields won Male Athlete of the Month for February 2020 after earning two world cup gold medals, both in Australia. In Fields’ Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, he talks about the importance of preparation and being ready for any challenge that might come your way.
You don’t become an Olympic champion without having physical skill, strength, speed and all the other attributes that go into winning races at the highest level.
Connor Fields, who’s the reigning Olympic gold medalist in men’s BMX racing, certainly possesses all those qualities. At a recent UCI World Cup, however, he showed how important it is to be prepared in other ways as well.
“In a perfect world every event runs without a hitch, but there’s not ever an event that runs without a hitch,” Fields said. “Weather, mechanical issues with the gate, issues with dogs that have run on the track in the middle of events. … One thing you have to be ready for is to be ready for anything and everything that can come your way.”
Fields picked up two gold medals in the first three world cups of the season last month, earning him Male Athlete of the Month for Team USA Awards presented by Dow.
Shaking the rust off in the first race of the season in Shepparton, Australia, Fields finished fourth. Back for round 2 the next day, Fields was in second place going into the first turn of the final, passed the leader in the second turn and took off for the win.
One week later the series picked back up in Bathurst, Australia, under a different set of circumstances. Conditions at the course the first day were dangerously windy and officials told racers they could cancel the race at any time. The men had one round of racing in the books, and after an hour-long delay to tend to an injured rider from Australia officials canceled the remainder of the race. Since Fields had the fastest lap time of the day to that point, he won.
That he put it all out there on the one lap he did have, despite the conditions, was no accident.
“My whole focus was to ride the fastest lap time that I possibly could and do that in each progressive round, knowing there was a chance they’d cancel the race if they deemed it unsafe,” Fields said. “It absolutely blows me away how many people didn’t know the rules. I’ve always thought that there is a level of intelligence you need to have in your sport about the way the rulebook is and the way things are going to run, and it paid off.”
Part of Fields’ attention to detail comes from experience. He’s 27 years old and a veteran of two Olympic Games, and that teaches you a thing or two along the way. But Fields said he likes to think of himself as a student of the sport, whether that’s knowing the rulebook or knowing his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses or the nuances of the course itself. To have your best shot at beating locals on their home tracks, you have to know what you’re up against.
“You’d better take the time you have and get used to the course because the other guys might have thousands of laps on that course,” he said. “I know how it feels on the other side, to race in America, and it’s great. It’s like another day where you get out of bed and go to your local course. You have to do what you can to make it feel like that and use your practice time to get as comfortable as you can.”
One thing that people are drawn to in BMX, Fields said, is that it’s never the same thing twice. Unlike swimming where you’re doing a set distance and a set stroke in an environment that doesn’t change dramatically, you have to be ready for anything in BMX. One day you may be racing in the freezing cold in Norway and three weeks later you could be racing in the heat and humidity in Florida. Those who can adapt best are often the ones who fare best.
And these days, adaptability is the name of the game the world over. In February, following his two wins, Fields was feeling good about his start, given the importance of the Olympic year and his belief that it’s easier to keep momentum going than build it from scratch.
The coronavirus outbreak has since thrown another unexpected challenge in his path.
Although he can still ride his bike, Fields is unable to train on the city-owned tracks near his Las Vegas home, and is taking turns with a friend working out in his garage in order to stay fit. Fields was the first American man ever to win an Olympic gold medal in BMX, and he’d love the opportunity to defend his title when the rescheduled Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 take place in 2021.
Still, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen in the coming months. The only thing Fields knows for sure right now is that the next three world cup stops planned, with two stages scheduled in each city, will not go on as planned. The same goes for the May 26-31 world championships that were taking place in Houston.
“It’s tough, I’m not going to say I’m all good,” Fields said, prior to the decision to postpone the Tokyo Games. “It’s weighing on me heavily for sure but I’m approaching it as we will race again, it’s just a matter of when. When we do compete again it’ll be nice to be in shape and be ready. I also know we’ll have plenty of advance notice. It’s not like they’re going to tell us we’re racing in six days. We’ll have an idea of when we’re going to get moving and have time to get ready.”