Nobody “deserves” to be in the Olympics. With few exceptions, you begin playing a game years before, the Olympic Game. It’s the contest that inexorably leads to your inclusion or exclusion from the biggest sporting stage on earth.
The battle isn’t just with splits or with successive triple axels or points or wins or or or or or. No, the battle is at every level, from breakfast to training, from personal issues to whether or not your country is at war, from getting on with your coach to getting sent to the competitions that matter, from tearing the legs off your competitors to tearing ligaments in an unfortunate fall.
The Olympic Game doesn’t end until you’ve either made the squad or you haven’t.
And even though the Olympics are so near that Tokyo has completed the stadiums, spit-polished Ueno Station, painted the city with English signs and ripped out the squat toilets, for the athletes the Olympics are still a thousand years away simply because anything can happen between now and then, and by “anything” I mean “anything bad.”
Yet the Olympics are dazzlingly close, too, because at least in the world of track cycling the pool of candidates has winnowed considerably, and there are only a handful of races left that will put contenders on a competition trajectory to participate in the most important events leading up to the Games.
Your chances of getting picked if you’re not winning? Slimmmmmm.
Your chances of getting picked if you’re not at the biggest races in the next eleven months? Zero.
One of the biggest forks in the road if you’re a U.S. bike racer trying to qualify for the Olympics is happening this week, it’s happening in Carson, and for many of the riders, everything is on the line. A crushing performance here will likely send you to the Pan-Am Games, and a strong showing there will propel you into the upcoming events in the World Cup.
A catastrophic showing in Carson and your Olympic campaign will likely come to a halt, the kind of halt that happens when someone takes out your front wheel with a bulldozer. So if you’re wondering what to do this week, I recommend you take a few hours of your time starting Thursday and mosey down to the Carson velodrome to watch some hard core pre-Olympic knife fighting in the mud.
And no, I’m not going to backtrack on my opener, that no one “deserves” an Olympic slot. But I will say that at track nationals this year you’ll get to see the best, most astonishing, most accomplished, most interdiscplinary bike racer we’ve had in this country for years. Of course I’m talking about Daniel Holloway.
How good is Holloway? He has won the national elite crit title five times. He’s a two-time national elite road champion. How about this: he’s held a national title of some type every single year … since 2014. And on top of that, for a couple of years he was wearing national titles simultaneously in three events. Name a national caliber crit and he’s not only won it, but chances are he’s won it multiple times. Athens? Yup. Snake Alley? Yup. Speed Week? Yup. Tulsa Tough? Yup, yup, yup.
The only reason that he doesn’t still dominate the national road and crit scene is because he’s trying to make the Olympic track squad, period. He has raced six-days in Europe for years, and brings the same intellect, bike skills, and tactical genius to the boards that he brings to road racing. Explosive, canny, tenacious, he’s the kind of rider who quickly exhausts your thesaurus when you’re trying to explain that HE IS A BADASS KILLER OF A BIKE RACER.
But in addition to all that, he has another skill, one that truly puts him at the pinnacle of the sport: The ability to polish off a giant stack of homemade sourdough pancakes topped with butter and maple syrup and not even whine about the calories. In fact, when I offered him this healthy post-ride snack before we went for a pedal the other day, all he texted back was, “Sounds like gluten. I’m in.”
So my advice is that you boogie on down to the Carson velodrome sometime this week to watch some crazy great bike racing. You’ll see some people here in your hometown that, twelve months hence, you are for sure gonna see on TV.