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It's Day's day at the BMX U.S. Olympic trials

June 15, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- Saturday was shaping up as the biggest day in Mike Day's BMX racing career, and he wasn't about to spend it alone.

"I went through my phone book in my cellphone and pretty much called everyone in there," said Day, who had to recharge his phone battery twice to get through the list. "Just to kind of even it out a little bit and know that I had some friends here."

About 100 people responded, coming by caravan down to the U.S. Olympic trials here, donning at least three varieties of Mike Day Fan Club T-shirts and basically screaming themselves hoarse for the 23-year-old rider from Santa Clarita.

Yet Day wasn't content with simply being the most popular athlete in Saturday's competition. He was also out to prove he was the best -- a goal he accomplished in dominating fashion by winning three of the four trials races to lock up the second berth on the U.S. team for the inaugural Olympic BMX event in Beijing this summer. He was so far ahead in points that officials elected to cancel the scheduled final.

Kyle Bennett of Conroe, Texas, secured the first U.S. team spot last month by clinching USA Cycling's BMX rankings championship. The third and final rider for the team will be chosen by coaches.

In filling that last team spot, extra weight will be given to international results. While Day knew that, he still elected to skip the most important event on the international calendar, the recent BMX World Championships in China. Instead, he stayed in Chula Vista and trained for the trials.

"There's no doubt that he gambled," said Pat McDonough, USA Cycling's director of athletics and the man who will lead the selection process. "He said, 'I don't want to take that trip. I want to prepare. I want to be ready on that day.' You gamble and sometimes it works."

But rarely does it work in such spectacular a fashion. Day blew away the rest of the seven-man field in the opening time trial and two of three "motos," or heats. He placed second in the one moto he didn't win, racking up 32 points and leaving the other riders mathematically out of contention.

"I knew every inch of this course," said Day, who six months ago moved to the Olympic Training Center to get comfortable with the track, which is built exactly like the one in Beijing. "I played out every scenario the last month of what could happen here."

But only one of the scenarios had him winning. "I dreamed about it a couple of times," he acknowledged with a grin.

Donny Robinson of Napa, Calif., who finished third in the time trial and won the lone "moto" Day didn't, was the only other rider to qualify for the final. He finished with 21 points.

Day hadn't done the math, however, so he was preparing for that last race when Mike King, coach of the U.S. BMX program, called him aside.

" 'Come with me' sounds pretty convincing," Day said. "I kind of had a feeling, but I didn't want to jump to conclusions. So I walked over and there was a big group of polo shirts headed for me. I could finally take a deep breath."

Despite his runner-up finish, Robinson is virtually guaranteed to get the coaches' pick, which will be announced July 1. A former world junior champion, Robinson is the top-ranked rider in the world.

"If I don't get it now, it wasn't meant to be," he said of the last Olympic berth. "I did what I could the last year and a half. And I couldn't feel much better about my chances."

On Saturday, however, his chances dimmed as Day lighted up the track. "Mike Day was on," Robinson said. "No one else could touch him."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

BMX Olympic trials

Final points standings:

1. Mike Day, Santa Clarita, 32 points

2. Donny Robinson, Napa, Calif., 21 points

3. David Herman, Wheatridge, Colo., 13 pts.

4. Kristopher Fox, Phelan, Calif., 7 points

5. Steven Cisar, Altadena, 6 points

6. Danny Caluag, Chino, 5 points

7. Tyler Brown, San Clemente, 0 points

Note: By virtue of his victory Saturday, Day secures the second spot on the U.S. Olympic team behind Kyle Bennett, who was named to the team last month. A third U.S. rider for Beijing will be chosen by team coaches on June 30. The lone female Olympian, Jill Kintner, clinched her spot two weeks ago at the BMX world championships.

-- Kevin Baxter

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