LONDON — He sat down to write in a journal Thursday evening, overlooking the Olympic village and envisioning his voyage to it. Connor Fields wanted more than anything to grasp the moment and how so many played a part in delivering him here. His friends, his family, his coaches past and present.
He took a picture of his words and emailed it to his parents.
He did not write about winning or medals or the individual glory that comes with standing on a podium, but rather how incredibly fortunate he felt, about how the sport of BMX has taken him to all points on a globe, about everything and everyone he thought about while staring at a place where the world’s best athletes have gathered.
“It was beautiful,” his mother, Lisa, said. “He wrote that no matter what happened, he was so thankful for the experience.”
He didn’t win a medal, didn’t stand on a podium, didn’t experience the individual glory that comes with a top three finish at the Games.
He is no less an Olympian for it.
He is more of one, in fact.
Fields couldn’t overcome a slow start in the men’s final Friday, fell back of the pack and finished seventh in a race won by Maris Strombergs of Latvia.
I departed BMX following the interview phase to reach the men’s basketball semifinal between the United States and Argentina, to watch a group of NBA stars from America advance to a gold-medal game that was as much a certainty when the team was formed than after a 109-83 win.
It’s not that Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or Kevin Durant or any of the U.S. players don’t want to win or haven’t worked extremely hard or won’t feel incredibly honored and special to have a (gold) medal slipped around the their necks Sunday afternoon following a final against Spain.
But they are not Olympians in the mold of a Connor Fields, in the sense that many of those competing here are. Their athletic dreams do not hinge on the outcome of four years of sacrifice being determined in a 38-second race. They are not of the same make as how most define the Games.
Fields embodies the Olympic spirit, far more thoughtful and respectful of its meaning than you might expect from a 19-year old competing on the world’s biggest athletic stage for the first time. He arrived to BMX at age 7 after his mother noticed a flier for the sport in a Henderson, Nev., bike shop and soon rode his first course.
Twelve years later, he crashed on the first heat of a semifinal at the Olympics, won the next two races to qualify first in the final and had a slow start that quickly doomed his chances for a medal.
And was no less respectful and reflective for it.
“I just got trapped behind guys and there was nothing I could do,” Fields said. “I had a bad start. I didn’t expect that. I had every intention of bringing home a medal, but I have to take it on the chin. No excuses.
“I’m just so proud and thankful to have come this far and be able to represent my country. I’m 19 and made the finals. I’m so thankful. I’m bummed I didn’t medal, but it is amazing to be part of this.”
His parents were decked in American colors beforehand and Mike Fields carried a large flag to their seats, as proud as you can imagine a couple would be. He played rugby and she was a figure skater and they knew early that team sports would not be the fire that lit their son’s passion.
That son is expected to enroll at UNLV soon and begin balancing college life with chasing another Olympic experience four years from now in Rio de Janeiro. He lit up when talking about it Friday.
As he made his way into the last turn of the final, three medals already in the hands of those in front of him, Fields tried passing a racer from Great Britain and the two collided. Bikes and bodies flew across concrete.
Fields stood up, his hands cut and bleeding from his wreck in the semifinals, his pants torn at the knees, and climbed back onto his bike. He pedaled slowly over the final few jumps, perhaps taking one final moment to appreciate the scene he so passionately wrote about the previous evening.
“Thinking back on it, I was trying to pass him for fifth place,” Fields said. “It probably didn’t make much sense, but I’m a racer. Every spot counts.”
A racer and an Olympian.
In every sense of the word.
Ed Graney is a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also is writing an Olympics blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/graney. Follow him on Twitter @edgraney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.