TOKYO — Connor Fields plunged down the mountainous ramp initially of a BMX race, a semifinal within the Olympic competitors most thought of him the favourite to win. On the backside, he started to hawk furiously, from the left facet of the observe, close to the entrance of the pack because it barreled, the riders clustered collectively, down the primary straightaway.
All Friday, the primary flip—a pointy financial institution left with a steep incline that required riders to steer up, lean left, flip their wheels and fly again down—had confirmed problematic, even for athletes who see crashing as an occupational hazard. That went for each the boys’s and girls’s semifinalists competing to make the Olympic ultimate. Fields gained that race 4 years in the past in Rio, leaving with a gold medal he had each intention to defend.
Simply earlier than that individual flip, on this explicit race, the entrance wheel of Fields’ bike appeared to clip the again wheel of the one competitor in entrance of him. Fields skidded, misplaced his stability and crashed into the flip. Worse but, this triggered a pile-up and two riders behind Fields rolled over him on their bikes. His head appeared to collide with the observe, as his physique rolled over, bikes and our bodies flying by. It damage to observe and prompted fast concern.
Medics and volunteers rushed onto the course, a stretcher not far behind. They huddled round Fields for what felt like 10 minutes or so, because the spectators fell silent and the printed waited, ostensibly out of respect and apprehension, to point out the replay. Finally, a number of of us clad in blue Tokyo 2020 gear carried Fields off the course on that stretcher. They took him outdoors the venue instantly.
U.S. teammate Alise Willoughby warmed up for her subsequent run close by the course. She could possibly be overhead telling a fellow competitor that Fields was in an ambulance, headed towards the hospital.
Again in Las Vegas, Mike Fields watched this nightmare unfold on tv with comprehensible concern, his ache and fear unfathomable and unimaginable to elucidate. He knew the game his son competes in, as a result of he launched him to it, after spying a flyer for a BMX race in 1999 and shopping for Connor his first bike.
In a textual content message change, Mike mentioned he was “not in place proper now” and ready for an replace from the hospital the place Connor had been taken to. What he knew at 1:15 p.m. in Tokyo was that his son was “alert, answering questions and shifting all his limbs.” That mentioned, Mike mentioned his son was in ache and “fairly subdued” and present process CT scans on his head, backbone and stomach.
Mike wrote that he anticipated to get an replace in “a pair hours.” He mentioned that he was attempting to be pragmatic, maybe as an “avoidance software.”
“There’s at all times a yin and yang to the world and the way it works,” he typed. “We benefit from the highs of the success and all that comes with it however the different facet of the coin is precisely what we’re coping with now, which (are) the dangers and penalties if issues go badly.”
This crash, he wrote, “is a type of instances we simply should belief within the universe.”
Whereas they waited, Mike remained in frequent contact with Connor’s mom and fiancé. “I’m terrified however helpless,” he mentioned.
I profiled the 2 of them 9 years in the past, earlier than the London Video games, for one more outlet. Solely 19, Connor had already gained three-straight World Cup ultimate races. He was prodigious; so expert, the truth is, that Mike King, then the BMX program director for USA Biking, advised me, “We have now these moments the place we watch him, and we’re like, ‘He’s actually going to harm himself.’ After which, on the final millisecond he can carry his bike again collectively. He’ll throw it sideways, and when it seems like he’s going into the face of the soar, on the final second, he’ll land.”
“I watch in amazement,” King mentioned. “You possibly can’t educate that.”
Nonetheless, that is BMX racing, so there are crashes. They’re as inevitable as winners, a part of the game’s panorama. Earlier than London, Mike advised me about one crash his son had suffered on the 2010 junior world championships in South Africa, the place Connor led your entire approach however spilled within the ultimate lap attempting to report the quickest time of the competitors. For seven months afterward, Connor hardly ever left his room, affected by melancholy. He registered for courses at UNLV, desirous to grow to be a bodily therapist. However then he met a coach, Sean Dwight, who advised him, “You’ve the power to win the Olympic Video games.”
Connor positioned seventh in 2012, after crashing within the Olympics. He broke a wrist in March of 2016, and the harm required emergency surgical procedure. However he recovered in time for the Olympics in Rio to grab gold, regardless of having solely two months to coach.
In ’18, the champion went by way of what he would name “the scariest harm of his life” on the nationwide championships. He posted on social media that he had hit his head, woken up strapped to a physique board in an ambulance, en path to the hospital. He mentioned that medics contained in the ambulance had advised him he’d suffered a seizure on influence and been knocked out chilly. However he was cleared in a number of months and returned to competitors.
Earlier than Tokyo, he wrote lovingly about his mother and father, their assist and the way he figured this may be his ultimate competitors. When it ended, he was within the hospital, as strangers internationally prayed for him. His opponents, the three medalists, mentioned comparable issues to what Connor himself had mentioned earlier than. They heard the slam when he crashed. They understood the chance. They knew that something may occur.
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