Todd Wells, cyclist from Kingston, ready for 3rd Olympics
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Todd Wells raced BMX bicycles as a child, not realizing that his true calling was practically in his backyard.
The Kingston native grew up minutes from the Catskills. When he soured on the BMX circuit in high school, he began exploring nearby trails on a mountain bike and soon discovered that he was better equipped for the endurance that requires.
"Kingston has some great trail networks, and it's pretty rural there," said Wells, 36, during a recent phone interview. "There was always plenty of new terrain and places to explore."
The Kingston High School alumnus will represent the United States in the Olympics for the third time next month. He's hoping his past experiences -- as well as signs that he might be at the top of his game -- will help him return from London with his first medal.
The race, which covers more than 23 miles and requires cyclists to climb 560 feet in each of its eight laps, is scheduled for Aug. 12.
Wells, who lives in Durango, Colo., finished in 19th place out of 50 racers in Athens in 2004, when he admits he was overwhelmed by his first Olympics. He was confident that he'd do better in Beijing in 2008, but he, in his own words, suffered a "meltdown" after putting too much pressure on himself, placing 43rd.
Learning from his past missteps, Wells said he has adjusted his approach to this year's Summer Games, which kick off July 27.
"This time around, I'm not overwhelmed by the event," said Wells, who was a two-time national collegiate champion at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. "In fact, I'm not even staying in the (athletes') village this year.
"I have the experience, so it's not going to be such a shock -- the size and the enormity of the event. And then, I know that I can have a good result, but I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on myself like I did in Beijing. So I feel like I have a good formula going."
In a sport where most riders peak in their late 20s or early 30s, Wells continues to improve during a time when he should be entering the twilight of his career.
Take the annual cross-country national championships, for example: Wells won the event for the first time in 2010 at 34, successfully defended his title in 2011 and finished second at Sun Valley, Idaho, this year after getting a flat tire on the final lap. (He did, however, manage to win the national short-track cross country championship a day later.)
Wells also finished a career-best fourth place in a World Cup event last month in Windham, N.Y.
The veteran racer theorizes that his background in BMX -- cycling's equivalent to a sprint -- could be a reason he's been a late bloomer of sorts: He believes his opponents might have developed the traits needed to be endurance athletes sooner than he did, and he's just now catching up.
"I would say that right now I'm faster than I've ever been," Wells noted.
Wells also credits his late-career success, in part, to the fact that he has a greater appreciation for racing after he retired from it for two years (1999-2001) to work as a project manager for IBM.
"Some people who have been athletes their whole lives have never seen that other side," he said. "So they don't know the opportunities they have now, or they've never experienced another way of life."