Fil-Am in Olympic BMX ride of his life
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - For Fil-Am biker Danny Caluag, representing the country in the BMX cycling event of the coming London Olympics was a goal he set for himself and now, the possibility of earning a medal is a driving motivation to excel on the 450-meter track where eight riders try to outdo each other in a one-lap sprint.

Caluag, 25, is the only Asian of 32 male qualifiers from all over the world. The BMX (Bicycle Motocross) event was introduced in the Olympic calendar in Beijing in 2008 with Latvia’s Maris Strombergs capturing the gold medal in 36.190 seconds. The schedule of competition is on Aug. 8-10 and will feature quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds. In each round, eight cyclists are engaged in a head-to-head battle, starting off with a ride down an eight-meter-high ramp then negotiating a dirt circuit that has a banked corner, S-bend transfer and jump marks. The quarterfinal and semifinals consist of three runs with the cumulative time determining the riders to advance. The finals will gather the top eight cyclists in a single-lap showdown.

The BMX track was completed last year and hosted the third round of the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in August. After the Summer Games, the circuit will form part of a cycling hub, called the Velopark, to be managed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority.

Accompanying Caluag to London are his coach Dr. Jason Richardson, wife Stephanie Barragan and father Daniel. Caluag would’ve performed for the Philippines at the Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta last year but was disqualified by organizers at the last minute for owning two UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) licenses as a Filipino and American, being a dual citizen. The disqualification was meant to deprive the Philippines of a sure gold medal in BMX.

“Dr. Richardson is my sports psychologist who helps me mentally prepare for this type of event,” said Caluag in an e-mail to The STAR. “He is a multi-national champion and has been involved in competitive professional racing for more than 18 years. My mechanic and neutral support is my wife. She’s my rock. She helps me with whatever I need. She knows what to do being an elite women NBL (National Bicycle League) champion and has been in the sport for over 20 years. With their knowledge as my support system, they will help me compete at my best.”

Caluag was born in California. His father Daniel, 57, is a respiratory therapist from Bulacan and migrated to Guam at an early age then relocated to California.  His mother Isabelita Manabat, 58, is a registered nurse from Nueva Ecija and settled in California in the 1980s. He has a brother Christopher John, 23, a civil engineer.

“I have a lot of relatives in the Philippines,” said Caluag. “One of my closest cousins, Charles Manabat, moved back to the Philippines from the US and is finishing up his education in nursing. I’ve only been to the Philippines a handful of times but I enjoy visiting every time. My last visit was in November.”

Caluag, a nursing student, said he’s looking forward to a strong showing in London. “Being the only Asian to qualify is a plus,” he said. “Representing the beautiful country of the Philippines is the icing on the cake. The Olympics is the ultimate stage to shine as an athlete and what better to represent my country than in the Olympics. It’s a great honor.”

The 5-6, 170-pound Caluag said height and weight don’t make a difference in BMX. “It’s all about strength to weight ratio,” he noted. “The stronger you are and the lighter you are, the faster you go. BMX is not a sport of timing. It’s a sport of tactical and all-out speed. Eight riders on the track and the fastest wins. BMX is about getting the best gates and going as fast as you can and holding your momentum through the course of the track.”

Caluag said he started riding BMX with friends in 1996 and participated in his first competition that same year. “When I started racing BMX, I chose to race because it was fun,” said Caluag. “I always had fun riding my bike. I raced a couple of events here and there and did really well. I kept progressing and eventually do what I do now which is ride professionally. I also like to compete in all aspects of biking from track, mountain and road.”

As a pro, Caluag is ranked No. 9 in the US elite standings.  “My most memorable BMX experience was when I won my first two pro titles in 2007,” he said. “I was the first person to win the AA Pro and Pro Cruiser titles in the same year.”

Caluag will arrive in London on July 29 after separate one-week training stints in the Netherlands and Canada. “I am proud to represent my country in the Olympics,” he said. “It’s the biggest stage to represent a country and I’m happy to be wearing the Philippine flag on my back. I couldn’t do this without all the support from my wife Stephanie, my family on both sides, Mayor Bambol Tolentino, Smart Communications and of course, the Filipino community. They all help to lift me up and race at my best.”

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