Road to Rio Chula Vista-OTC athletes hope to mine gold at Brazilian Summer Games

Phillip Brents

Fri July 29, 2016 10:46am

Brooke Crain and Nic Long

Aside from the FIFA World Cup, the Summer Olympic Games are likely the most universally watched sporting event. A record number of countries will participate in a record number of sports during the 2016 Games, which will be held Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro.
Chula Vista residents will have a unique opportunity to cheer for their own when 200 qualified athletes (including team sports and short-term resident athletes) from the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center compete for Olympic gold in their respective events.
“It’s an awesome feeling being one of five in our sport get to represent the United States and do it on a large platform,” explained BMX athlete Nic Long, who is competing in his second consecutive Olympic Games. “Everyone in the world tunes into it. It’s a huge deal.”
“I’m super excited to represent my country again — ‘excited’ is the only word I can come up with,” added fellow two-time BMX Olympian Brooke Crain.
Long and Crain, along with Connor Fields, Corben Sharrah and Alise Post, comprise the CV-OTC’s 2016 BMX Olympic contingent. For Long, Fields, Crain and Post it’s a return trip to the Olympic stage — and a shot at redemption. All agree that while the first time around was fun and exciting, now it’s time to get serious.
Crain finished eighth in the women’s competition at the 2012 London Games while Post was 12th; Fields placed seventh in the men’s competition while Long placed 17th. During the sport’s debut at the 2008 Beijing Games, Team USA riders brought three Olympic medals home.
“All five of us crashed; it just wasn’t our day,” Long lamented about the team’s showing at the London Games. A lot has changed in four years.
Long, 26, and Post, 25, both earned automatic berths on the U.S. Olympic team after capturing bronze medals in May’s UCI BMX World Championships in Colombia. It was the highest place-finish for Long in world championship competition after previously not finishing higher than fifth.
Post has collected three world championship medals since 2010 and four national championships from 2011-14.
“I feel a little more focused, more so than during my first time in the Olympics,” explained Long, a Lakeside resident. “It’s crazy going your first time. I’m more confident in my racing. I’ve been checking all the boxes and pretty much feel I’m ready.” Still, he admitted, BMX finishes are hard to predict.
“It’s an awesome sport with plenty of crashes,” he said. “It’s exciting … it’s a sport where a lot of things need to happen in order for you to have a good outcome. There are a lot of factors involved.”
Crain’s goal, like the others on the team, is to bring home a medal.
“I want to take it all in and be able to look back on the experience rather than put too much energy into the experience,” she said. “The Olympics are crazy. You have to look at it that you have one job to do there.”
Archery, BMX, men’s field hockey, men’s and women’s rugby sevens and track and field are team sports based at the sprawling OTC-CV complex overlooking the Lower Otay reservoir.
Rugby sevens is making its Olympic debut and members of both the men’s and women’s U.S. national teams are excited at the prospect of becoming a part of history.
“We’re in it for gold,” Team USA men’s team captain Madison Hughes explained. “We are ranked sixth in the world right now, but we have beaten every team at least once. So we know we can win it. It’s now a matter of doing it (at the Olympic Games).”
Ditto for the U.S. women, who are also ranked sixth in the world and who have also defeated higher-ranked teams on the road to the Rio Games.
“It’s really anyone’s game,” U.S. national team member Meya Bizer said. “Since this is the first year for sevens in the Olympics, there’s bound to be some drama, some big upset.”
Twelve teams will be competing in Brazil in each gender category. The reduction of rosters from 15 to seven players on the pitch creates for a faster game, according to Hughes, a London native and recent graduate of Dartmouth, who plays at the scrumhalf position.
“There’s a lot more space; the game is a lot more open, free-flowing and visually exciting,” he explained.
Bizer feels playing sevens is more demanding than the traditional format of 15 players per side.
“All the technical skills — passing, catching, running, speed — are so much more exposed in sevens,” she said. Bizer said the team’s goal is to bring back a medal.
“We’ve gone through a lot in the last year and knowing we did it together is the best thing we will be taking into the Olympic tournament,” she said.
Following the Rio Games, the 2016 Paralympic Games will take place Sept. 7-18, also in Brazil.