US riders advance, but defending champ Strombergs out at BMX
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Connor Fields and his U.S. teammates made it safely through the wind and the wrecks at the BMX track.
Two-time defending gold medalist Maris Strombergs of Latvia and reigning world champion Joris Daudet of France weren't as fortunate on Thursday at the Summer Olympics.
A crash-filled quarterfinal round on a breezy afternoon in Rio de Janeiro cleared the field of a handful of medal contenders, and brought the United States one step closer to returning to the podium after getting shut out in London four years ago.
All three American riders advanced to the semifinals on Friday in an unpredictable sport that traces its roots to Southern California.
''The best I can describe it is, put 800 lions in a cage, throw out a big steak and open the doors,'' Fields said. ''That's BMX.''
Teammates Corben Sharrah and Nic Long joined him in the semifinals. Three Dutch riders advanced, including Niek Kimmann, ranked second in the world.
Australia's Sam Willoughby, the silver medalist in 2012, also made it through to the next round.
But there will be a new gold winner in Rio after Strombergs barely missed the cut. A wreck on his first heat with two other medal favorites, Switzerland's David Graf and Britain's Liam Phillips, set him back the rest of the afternoon.
This isn't the way Strombergs had envisioned leaving his last Summer Games. Strombergs, who carried Latvia's flag in the Opening Ceremonies, is known for producing in big races.
Not on Thursday.
''He didn't manage the track. The track wasn't for him and the wind helped a lot to make things worse,'' said Latvia coach Ivo Lakucs. ''He wasn't confident in the gate.''
By the end of the heats on Thursday, a stiff breeze had whipped up flags fluttering above the stadium.
Crashes aren't uncommon in BMX, though that didn't ease Stromberg's disappointment.
''A race is a race. You need to take a risk. That's the sport,'' Lakucs said.
Fields said the winds, which appeared to be blowing primarily at the racers' backs coming off the starting ramp, were different from what they had encountered earlier in the week in practice.
Cyclists only had 30 minutes of practice before the heats on Thursday to get used to the conditions.
''I really like the course, but what made it really hard today was the wind,'' Fields said. ''So adaptability was huge today and I think you noticed, the riders that were able to adapt and mentally get through what was going on out there ... those were the riders that were able to be successful.''
Daudet favored his left arm while riding around after the round. Phillips, ranked second in the world, was being checked out by medical personnel as precaution for a possible concussion, British coach Grant White said.
Phillips, who recently recovered from a broken collarbone, did not return after his crash and was eliminated.
White said the wind wasn't as much of a factor in Phillips' wreck, but that he was just caught in a tight spot on the outer edge after the first turn with two other riders.
''Olympic medals on the line, people not wanting to back off here or there. It's a bit of a cocktail really,'' White said. ''But it's exciting for the fans, I guess.''