BMX racer David Herman of Wheat Ridge hopes strong starts yield golden finish
DACONO — Last August, after placing a strong fifth in an international test race at London's new Olympic BMX track, David Herman pulled behind a shack and made a personal pact.
"I promised myself and my mom that it would not be the last time I raced that track," said the 24-year-old from Wheat Ridge who ranks as America's top BMX racer.
That was a rare race, as it didn't include Mickey Herman, waiting, as she always has, at the finish line with a cold drink for her son. She was unconscious at a Denver hospital, suffering from heart failure brought on by pneumonia. Herman, who scribbled "I love you Mom" on the inside of his racing plate and "Mom" on his glove, felt his mother's cheers, just as he had heard at every race since he first pedaled a BMX track 16 years ago.
David Herman has had considerable support as he has become a top rider on the international circuit. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)
"Knowing my mom was home fighting for her life, I was able to stay way more relaxed, and really nothing could faze me," he said.
Maybe it was his mom's illness or maybe it was the promise, but the London test event was a steppingstone to Herman's strongest season ever. The USA Cycling athlete finished third in the first World Cup of the season in California, third in May's World Cup race in the Netherlands and fifth at the BMX world championships in the U.K. The three-podium effort fulfilled Herman's promise, and he will be returning to the London track as America's best hope for BMX gold in the Summer Olympics.
"My confidence is high," he said with his casual yet contagious smile. "I'm going into London, not just to compete in the Olympics but to win a medal."
Mickey won't be there; she's still recovering. But just as her son sat at her bedside for months, she will be there for him.
"Oh, how I wish I could be there," said the mother who pored over BMX magazines for company addresses and mailed more than 300 résumés and photographs of her son every year during his nascent career. "I always knew David would go somewhere, but I never, ever dreamed he would go to the Olympics. I knew he had the potential to do something with bikes because he was just so good. You know a lot of kids quit when they didn't win, but David, he never quit. He kept going even after he lost. That's when I knew he really wanted it. He really wants to be in this sport."
BMX has been Herman's life since his oldest brother first brought him to an Arvada track when he was 8. After turning pro in 2007, the lean racer — nickname: "The Hermanator" — has been focused on elevating his sport. He's not one of those athletes driven by dreams of the Olympics, though.
"I've done a good job of taking it race by race," he said between brief spins at his home track in Dacono, where he has ridden for years. "I haven't really started to focus on a medal yet. I don't think it's really sunk in yet."
Before he starts focusing on gold, Herman is hoping this Olympics — the second for BMX — will help expose his sport to more people and maybe change some perceptions.
"Sometimes I think it's hard to portray how athletic this is. Lots of people still think all we are doing is tricks," he said. "When people see us on the Olympic track, they'll know we are legitimate athletes."
Herman leaves this week for Chula Vista, Calif., where USA Cycling has built a replica of the 450-meter London track, one of the world's fastest with a towering, 8-meter starting platform and monster box jump. (Early test runs show the London track will host sub-40-second races, a rarity in top-tier BMX.)
For the next two months, he will train. On the bike, in the weight room and with his coaches as he finds the perfect line around the track, the right number of pedal strokes between features and how to hold his speed through the track's massive rhythm section of undulating rollers.
His recent World Cup performance means he doesn't have to race the June 16 Olympic Trials that will determine which other two men will join him in London.
"It's going to be different for me going two months without a race," he said at the end of his first week off in more than two years. "But I'll get in that training zone, and that's worked well for me in the past."
Herman, at 155 pounds, is small for BMX. His lack of girth can deliver less momentum as he lands on the backside of jumps. But he's spry at the start, where many a BMX race is decided.
"For me the start is my strongest point, and I think it's the most important part of the race," he said, noting how typically the first three in the first turn are the top finishers. "You need to be ready to get your elbows out when you get out of the gate and not get cut off." USA Cycling BMX coach James Herrera has watched Herman climb the ranks for several years and sees Herman's skills out the gate as a real edge.
"He's got a wicked fast first straight, and the guy who can win to the first turn is going to win the race 80 percent of the time," Herrera said. "David won the first spot for a reason. He's a very, very consistent rider with a really great strength-to-weight ratio. And he's just so technically gifted and smooth on the track."
One thing Herrera admires about Herman is his dedication to BMX.
"This is one of those extreme sports where you get a lot of personalities and egos, and he's pretty humble with a strong work ethic," Herrera said. "He's really down-to-earth and a great kid to represent the sport."