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Two-time track cycling Olympian Bobby Lea of Topton, Pa., recommitted to a third bid in his mind before he even got home from the London Games, where he finished 12th in the demanding two-day, six-event omnium. The 29-year-old trains with Philadelphia-based coach Brian Walton, a 1996 Olympic track cycling silver medalist for Canada. Lea looked ahead in a recent chat with ESPN.com:
Question from Ford: What was the biggest contrast between your experiences in London and Beijing [in 2008]?
Answer from Lea: The single biggest thing was just knowing what I was in for. I knew the details would be different, but the bigger picture was the same, and I was much more prepared to handle it. In the run-up to the actual event, it was much more calm and quiet and easier to focus on the task at hand than it was for Beijing. As far as the performance was concerned, I really wanted to get inside that top 10. But when I take a step back and look at the event as it unfolded, five of the six events were the best I'd ever done, so it was hard to argue with that. Two-tenths of a second in one event [the kilo, or 1-kilometer time trial] would have made the difference.
That's bike racing, that's track racing. I went to London thinking if I turned in a performance I was satisfied with, I could walk away from track racing in the Olympics and say it's been a good run and made up for a performance I wasn't really happy with in Beijing [Editor's note: He finished 16th in the Madison]. But by the time I touched down in Newark, I was already thinking about Rio [in 2016]. I wasn't anticipating that, but that's kind of how it unfolded. The placing was nothing to write home about, but the finer details showed a pretty significant jump in performance from where I was in the two years leading up to the Olympics. My takeaway from that is if I can do that in three months, if I can take the next four years and really dial in my support structure and work even harder, then I can go to Rio and actually be a contender instead of someone just shooting for a top 10.
Q: If you were king and had control over the Olympic program, what would you create?
A: I've made my peace with the omnium. I certainly struggle to deal with all the different elements, learning how to prepare and how to handle myself in the midst of the event. But if the omnium remains unchanged in Rio and that's the event, I know what I'm dealing with and I know how to work for it. I'm not too fussed about what the event's going to be. If I can make it four more years and I can set up that support structure, then I'm ready to take a run for Rio. Part of the question I've been dealing with since I got home is, what does that mean? It's easy to answer that question if you're part of a big national federation that has an endless budget, but as basically a privateer trying to put together a program, it's an entirely different question. I've got a year or two to sort that out.
Q: How does this affect your road racing aspirations? That was at the top of your future agenda when we last talked.
A: At this point, I'm still treating the rest of my career like an open book and it's day to day, month to month, year to year. I've got a job riding with SmartStop-Mountain Khakis next year on the road, so between that and a couple of winter sixes (six-day races) with my Madison partner [Jackie Simes], we'll see what happens. We're hoping to get a start in Rotterdam in January. It's been a long time since there were Americans racing on the six-day circuit. That would be a really neat thing to do that doesn't conflict with road racing.
My team for next year is really supportive of my extracurricular activities on the track. It's a good place for me to race the road and have a lot of fun and get back into domestic road racing and [Simes] is going to be joining me on that team. Where it goes, who knows, but I'm not writing anything off. 2010 was my last full season on the road. I'm ready to jump back in, I miss it.
Q: Do you feel like you're in a situation where you can compete clean at the Continental level in this country?
A: Absolutely. It's not something I would be doing if I thought I was trying to swim upstream.