At a press conference for the U.S. Olympic BMX team last week, 24-year-old David Herman seemed contemplative and at ease with the coming week of competition. Herman, the first male rider to qualify for Team USA in May, fielded questions about Olympic pressure and expectations. He answered with a sincere directness reserved for Olympic athletes.
"My goal headed into this Olympics is to get a medal. I'm coming off the best season I've ever had. I was able to get three World Cup podiums in the last 10 months and fifth at the world championships, so anything but a medal would be disappointing," said Herman.
But as Time Trials unfolded into quarterfinals and semifinals, David Herman's hopes were dashed by an unlikely force -- France's Joris Daudet and Quentin Calyeron. Several times during the week, mid-pack turns morphed into French-initiated pile-ups, with Herman tangled underneath. He recovered to qualify into semifinals, but additional crashes kept him out of the finals.
It's nothing new. France's Daudet is notorious for an all-or-nothing approach that in the past has resulted in crashes which ultimately led to post-race scuffles with the likes of Australia's Khalen Young and Sam Willoughby. This week, Daudet, who has referred to crashes as part of the "beauty of BMX," seemed to have his sights set clearly on Team USA riders.
Herman's teammate, Nic Long, also fell victim to the mid-turn pile-up. Long went down in the same crash as Herman during quarterfinals, and managed to finish the first race of heat three in seventh place. Long's remaining quarterfinal races, including race four, knocked him back in the points rankings to fifth place. He did not qualify to semifinals. Long called his Olympic run the "worst luck I've had in my BMX career" and seemed to have suffered the physical effects of the quarterfinals crash. However, he remains grateful for the chance to become an Olympic athlete.
And then there was Connor Fields. "Four years ago, I was 15 and watched BMX in the Olympics and decided to go for it 100%," said Fields. I hope I inspired others to do the same." Fields qualified into the finals with ease and looked unstoppable during semifinals. Then it became an uncharacteristic race for Fields -- he had a poor start, got stuck in the pack, and just before the finish, crashed mid-turn. He got back up and finished in 7th place.
"It wasn't the fairy tale ending I was hoping for, but I gave it my all and have no regrets," said Fields. The 19-year-old Nevada resident returns to the U.S. without a medal, but his efforts proved worthwhile. Team USA track and field Olympian Wallace Spearmon Jr. called him a "boss" and paid tribute to Fields' style. Former Guns and Roses guitarist Slash, a longtime BMX fan, said that Fields was "kicking major a**," and X Games gold medalist Scotty Cranmer said that Fields was the "future champion of everything in BMX racing."
Fields went three days with little sleep during his Olympic BMX run, and said he felt "absolutely thrashed."
As for Team USA's Alise Post, crashed ended her Olympic run early. She misjudged a step-up mid-race, clipping the landing and losing control during the semifinals. And then, in the next race, Post crashed headfirst into an oncoming jump. The crash left her dazed. Unable to walk on her own, she was helped across the finish line by an Olympic track official.
She didn't remember what happened -- only that her Olympic dream would have to wait another four years.
Arielle Martin/Brooke Crain
Meanwhile, Team USA's Arielle Martin remained hospitalized in San Diego, Calif. During the final at-home practice session for Team USA at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. on July 30, Martin's chain broke. The ensuing crash left Martin with a collapsed right lung and a severely lacerated liver. Martin endured three surgeries, and was recently upgraded from intensive care to the trauma unit.
Her initial hopes were to join Team USA in London for the closing ceremonies. But that Olympic dream was not in the cards. On Thursday, she was able to walk for a few minutes, and during Olympic BMX finals, Martin was able to watch from her hospital bed, cheering on her teammates.
As the women lined up at the start gate on Friday and introductions were made, the camera panned to Martin's replacement, Brooke Crain. Crain raised her hand to the camera. Her glove read "AVM," Arielle Martin's initials. Crain, who also fell during Time Trials and was not at 100%, finished 8th in the finals.
As the races finished, Martin reached out to her Olympic teammates and thanked them for training alongside her and giving BMX Olympic exposure.
She called them eagles.