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BEIJING 2008

The training wheels are off

Four U.S. BMX racers have prepared for this since the sport was added to the Beijing Games in 2003.

August 19, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- BMX bicycle racing has taken Kyle Bennett all over the world, so it was nothing special when he climbed aboard a flight for China last week.

But it was something special when he got here.

"Once that plane landed and I got off and there's some camera crews," Bennett said, his voice trailing off. "It kind of hit me then. This is it."

This, after all, is the Olympics, something Bennett and his three U.S. teammates have been pointing for since the sport was added to the Games schedule in the summer of 2003.

"I circled [the date] about a month after they announced it," said Santa Clarita's Mike Day, winner of the U.S. Olympic trials in June on a track modeled after the Beijing venue. "That's when I got a coach. I did a lot of things to make this happen.

"But it never really set in until I got off the plane, got on the bus and checked into the [athletes] village. It's a bit overwhelming but super-fun."

BMX makes its Olympics debut Wednesday morning with individual seeding races for men and women. The 32-rider men's field and the 16-bike women's field will then be cut in half through a series of heat races with the top finishers moving on to Thursday's final motos.

"I'm ready," said Bennett, the top U.S. rider this season and a three-time BMX world champion from Conroe, Texas. "The anticipation's been killing me. I'm just ready to get it on.

"All the training and all that stuff's been done. Now it's time to shine."

None of the U.S. riders -- Napa's Donny Robinson is the third male rider and Seattle's Jill Kintner is the only American in the women's field -- have raced in more than two months, but Bennett said they've stayed sharp with mock competitions on the U.S. Olympic Committee's Chula Vista track.

Robinson likened the inclusion of BMX to the Summer Games to the addition of halfpipe, snowboarding and short-track speedskating to the Winter Games.

"It's going to add some edge and youthfulness," he said

"Hopefully, the people are going to like what they see," Bennett added. "This is kind of like our coming-out party." --

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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