At his first Olympic Games in London four years ago, Nic Long was just happy to be there. The professional BMX racer has a completely different approach this time around, however.
Long, 26 and a lifelong resident of Lakeside, performed so well on the BMX circuit this year that he racked up enough points to qualify for the United States team that will compete at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games in August.
He said his performance four years ago was disappointing and was affected by his mental attitude. Long finished in 17th place at the London Games.
“The first one I was in, I made (the team) you know, I was already here,” Long explained. “I was sort of sub-consciously (thinking) I made it, I’m stoked, and maybe, I guess internally it was ‘I don’t care what place I get, I already made it.”
These days, Long said he is intent on proving to himself and others that he is much better.
“This one I’m going to go there and be prepared as possible,” he said. “I’m not going with the mindset of maybe doing well. I’m going with the mindset of I’ve got to get a medal.”
Long has been riding BMX bikes since he was 7, and has been a pro since 2009. He competes for Haro Bikes of Vista.
It is his full-time job, and one that he is taking more seriously than ever. He hired a new coach about a year ago, Kurt Pickard, a former pro BMX rider from New Zealand who is a teammate of Long’s on the Haro team.
Pickard said he began working with Long at a time when “he knew he had to make some changes to get to the next level and continue to improve as an athlete.”
Long says Pickard has helped him to concentrate better on his form, and other details of his continual training regime.
“He’s really good about being able to recognize little things (about his training),” Long said. “There’s just huge differences and huge gains I’ve been able to make.”
The work Long put in over the past year paid off at the BMX World Championships held in Medellin, Colombia, last month. He captured third place in the final race, coming back from starting out in last place among the final heat of eight riders. That finish automatically put him on the U.S. Olympic Team.
“I made a really good move in the last turn, and as I came across the line, I said, whoa, no way!”
Like many young boys, Long said he played Little League baseball but his life changed one day when his father Donavon took him to nearby Cactus Park to watch motocross bicycling.
“I fell in love with it,” the younger Long said.
Since then, he said he’s never taken a break from riding and has steadily progressed his skill level to the point where he regularly competes with the best in the world. He competed for his father’s amateur team before turning pro.
When he races, it occasionally hits him that he’s usually the oldest competitor in the field.
“I can remember being a kid, when I was 19, and I was racing pros who were 30, and thinking this is crazy,” he said. “I don’t feel old but I’m getting up there.”
Practicing and working out is now Long’s focus as he approaches the Rio Games starting Aug. 5. On the day he was interviewed, Long did a 40-minute workout on a stationary bike, and would follow that with a weight session lasting two to three hours. Later on, he would do a wind down workout on the small BMX track at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista where he regularly trains.
Long realizes his window for achieving his goal is nigh and it might never come again. He visualizes standing on the podium in Rio with a medal hanging from his neck.
“I’m going there to get a medal; I can’t be messing around and not getting one this time,” he said. “I can’t be pushing 30 the next time if I’m able to go for it.”
Clearly motivating Long is his performance at the London Games that he says left him feeling enormously disappointed. “I just want to walk out of there and feel proud of myself, and not let myself down,” he said. “When I walked out of there last time my family was proud, my friends, everybody, they were stoked, but I wasn’t.”
Long’s attitude change is evident to Long’s father. “Nic’s whole attitude going into this year is a lot more professional,” the elder Long explained. “This year he’s going into it to prove to himself that he’s a better rider than what he showed in 2012.”
Despite all the news reports surrounding the Zika virus and other problems involving the upcoming Olympic Games, it’s not going to deter Long’s family from traveling to Brazil and supporting him.
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Donavon Long said.
Nic Long says he traveled in South America before and feels comfortable competing there, and is not concerned about contracting the virus that could have devastating effects on new-born children.
While he’s laser focused on doing well in Rio, Long is also keenly aware that his days of competing at the highest levels are getting shorter. Last year, Long launched a business called Idol Hand Gloves, which makes specialized gloves for BMX and motocross riders.
He admits he has not really put much energy into the business he runs out of his home over the past year because all of his attention is on the Olympics.
This time around, Long says he’s more prepared, more ready than ever to seize this moment. “This is going to be the one that I’ll shine.”