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Bobby Lea is Team USA's contender for the men's omnium at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London
American qualified omnium spot despite long odds
The 2008 Olympian jokingly referring to himself as the Mitt Romney of cycling – the presumptive track candidate for the Olympics. Lea will be officially named to the squad on June 15 after the National Olympic Committees confirm the allocations with the 34 nations who are qualified for the Games.
Qualification for the 2012 Olympics was a two year process: eight World Cups, two Continental Championships and two World Championships. However, Lea was unaware of when the qualification for the track would begin.
"I kind of stumbled into the process by accident," Lea tells Cyclingnews. "Initially I had gone back to the track in the 2010-2011 track season to reacquaint myself with world level track racing. But over the summer of 2010 I realized that the Olympic qualification process was starting. There was no time to get reacquainted – I jumped right into the deep end."
In order to qualify for a spot Lea's strategy was simple: "maximize points at every World Cup."
By his own admission Lea says that in some events he had better rides and others were, "pretty far off the mark."
By the merits of his seventh place in the Beijing World Cup and this third place in the Pan American Championships, Lea was on the short list to becoming a two-time Olympian.
Another factor that helped in his selection was the new rule which no longer chose the top 24 countries with the most UCI points. Instead, the top eight countries from Europe, six from the Americas, five from Asia and two from Oceania are selected. A final wrinkle is that a nation, while making the quota for its region, must still qualify as one of the top nations. An example is the 10th ranked Netherlands was bumped from the Olympics by Venezuela due to the quota limit of eight European countries for that region. Some continents have stiffer competition for qualification than others, and Europe, with its strong tradition of track racing, is one of those areas.
As nations were eliminated due to the quota limit, America was able to slot into the 17th position, qualifying for the Games.
"I drove myself nuts for a year and a half by constantly checking the updates on the UCI website and trying to figure out the points and what I had to do and who had to miss out on an event to get their points."
While his seventh place in Beijing was a highlight of his season, immediately following is what Lea describes as a lowlight.
"I had a bout of tendinitis which forced me off my bike for a few weeks ahead of the London World Cup and then getting sick before the Continental Championships. By the time I got to the World Championships I was running on fumes (finishing 17th in the omnium) and hoped that when I was finished the points would be in my favor."
With the Worlds behind him Lea is starting to think about the London Games.
"I was certainly overwhelmed with the extra stuff that comes along with Olympics," says Lea, a veteran of the 2008 Beijing Games. "All those little things you don't take into consideration unless you've been there. There's a mental fatigue of being in the Olympic Village and being involved in Olympic fuss. Going into it a second time I'm more aware of the pitfalls."
One of those pitfalls Lea discovered was when he arrived in Beijing for the Games. Lea and three other teammates wore anti-smog masks to protect themselves from the environment, but this was seen as an insult by the host country and was a major PR gaffe by the US team.
That isn't a concern at the London Games, however, there are other details to consider, like the location of your nation's team house in relation to how far away it is from the dining hall.
"Something as simple as walking to the food hall three times a day, and your dorm isn't well placed, could mean walking five to ten minutes each day and that adds up three times a day. It's little things that I'll manage differently."
After the Games, the 29-year-old Lea is looking to make a change.
"Once I get past London and this season I would like to step off from World Cup and World Championship track racing and try my hand at full-time road racing," says Lea. "It's been a really good run on the track with two Olympics, so it's hard to complain. I'd like to put my effort into the road and see what happens. I'd really love to get back onto the UCI road circuit after this year."