Sunday, July 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Las Vegas Strip offers new opportunities for former Olympic athletes
- Gold is goal, but experience in London will be paramount for two-time Olympian
- Las Vegas nurse relishes being part of Olympic torch relay, looks forward to games
- Berth on U.S. team for London games puts hammer thrower ahead of schedule
- Michael Hunter hopes to fulfill dreams — his and his father’s — with Olympic gold
- Sun editorial: Olympic spirit
- Where I Stand: Games bring more than sports
Connor Fields leaned on a wooden fence beam at Boulder City BMX, armed with a Sharpie and two 24-packs of Monster Energy Drink.
A flock of kids straddling BMX bikes surrounded him. For nearly an hour on a sweltering 90-degree day, he scribbles his initials — a C and backward F, the way his dad does it — and Team USA onto cans, BMX jerseys, bike seats and anything else thrust at him. Kids ranging from 4 to 14 years old shout his name and fight for his attention.
They don’t need to, though.
Fields addresses them individually, asking how they are or how football camp is going or if they have a new bike. He knows most of them — he was one of them not too long ago.
This is where he grew up, or at least where Fields, a 19-year-old Team USA Olympic bicycle motocross racer, learned his sport. He’s ridden the course full of choppy dirt rollers (small hills bunched together) and sleek turns thousands of times. He’s shattered his bike on the first wave of rollers (when he was 12 years old), rented it out to train alone in 100-degree heat and ran clinics for kids.
It’s here where Fields, a 2011 Green Valley High School graduate, chose to return on Olympic Day — observed each June 23 around the globe — for a final visit before he leaves to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics. It’s here that it all began.
“I competed when I was 7 years old here, against two guys in particular,” said Fields, who will turn 20 in September. “We had awesome battles every Friday night. From there all the way up to coming out here every Tuesday and riding for three hours ... it just feels kind of, a little bit like home.”
One week prior to the visit, Fields won the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials for BMX in Chula Vista, Calif. That day, he went from Olympic hopeful to Olympian — a moment he had waited for since watching the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics (the first year BMX racing was introduced). He is considered the top-ranked U.S. member and the second-best racer in the world, according to the most recent rankings from Union Cycliste Internationale, the International Cycling Union.
“It was just a crazy feeling knowing that I just punched my ticket,” he said. “It really didn’t sink in until a couple days later. ... For the rest of my life, I’m an Olympian.”
Before that, though, Fields was a 7-year-old obsessed with his bike, racing at Boulder City BMX and Nellis BMX. The sport has bikers race around curvy dirt courses full of sharp turns, bumps and hills with jumps. The courses test a competitor’s speed and control. Fields loved it.
His parents had given him a heavy Schwinn bike for racing. Fields’ father, Mike Fields, said it was akin to asking a racer to sprint in 50-pound boots. It was at those first races at Boulder City BMX that Fields’ talent first became apparent, not to his parents, but to a mother of one of the competitors.
“Walking up here this evening, it was like, ‘Holy cow,’” Mike Fields said. “Just reflecting on when he was 7 years old, that a particular mom was one of the first people who said Connor was going to be really special.”
Lisa Fields, Connor Fields’ mother, said all her son did was ride his bike and think about BMX. When most kids built sand castles at a beach, he built BMX courses. As he got older, he built a 20-foot-long course out of clay in the backyard and spent hours analyzing and digesting film.
“He’s a very cerebral racer,” Lisa Fields said. “He definitely treats it like a chess game.”
When Connor Fields was 9 years old, a sponsored team picked him up and sent him to races around the world, from Brazil to Denmark to Canada. He placed third in the BMX World Championships in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for ages 13-14 and then followed it up with a second-place finish the next year for ages 15-16. His promise became apparent, and when he decided to work toward the Olympics, he trained even harder.
“From (the 2008 Olympics) on, that’s when I got serious, and I stopped taking it lightly,” Connor Fields said. “I did everything I could do to make it happen.”
He stepped up his training at Boulder City BMX and Nellis BMX. He skipped school dances and dropped other sports to attend races around the world. He spent hours honing his technique and pushing himself to become faster and stronger on the course. Eventually, he began renting out the Boulder course to train by himself.
Now all that work has paid off.
“Being an Olympian is really cool. It’s a lifetime of work,” Connor Fields said. “It means something, too. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you tell them you competed in the Olympics, you competed for your country, it means something.”
He is confident the hardest part is behind him. Connor Fields said the U.S. team had the most top-10 ranked racers in the world, and only a few can make the team, which means the race itself will be slightly easier than the trials. Still, he won’t promise a gold medal.
“I read somewhere that odds of becoming an Olympian are 1 in 622,000,” he said. “But the odds of being a gold medalist — 1 in 22 million.”
But on this sweltering afternoon on Olympic Day, Connor Fields is just excited to be home on the dusty course that he grew up on, where kids shout his name, adults wish him luck and “Bring home the gold” is spray-painted on one of the hills. Next time he comes back, he hopes to bring a medal with him.
“It’s really cool to come out here,” he said. “It makes me really happy that these people are happy for me.”