Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

Olympic-style BMX track in Oldsmar has riders' support

OLDSMAR — From a ramp three stories high, she launches 40 feet through the air. The Florida athlete says this stomach-dropping rush is vital to her year-round training — but, for now, she can fly domestically only in Southern California.

Largo's Amanda Geving, 24, is among a growing and vocal group of local BMX riders who support a state-of-the-art Olympic-style track, only the nation's second, proposed for Oldsmar.

"It would be absolutely amazing to have that resource right in my back yard," said Geving, who recently competed in Manchester, England, and is now training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. "It would give Florida riders a huge edge."

Chula Vista, near San Diego, is home to the first and only Olympic-style BMX track in the United States, which is closed to the public. For lack of closer options, elite riders like Geving have historically flocked there to train. Now, as the Oldsmar proposal gains local attention, riders young and seasoned are clamoring for an East Coast version.

For years, USA BMX, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission and Oldsmar have discussed building the $650,000 track over a popular but much smaller course in Canal Park off Tampa Road. Oldsmar officials say it would vastly benefit the local economy, filling hotels and restaurants during international BMX competitions.

The blueprint includes more bleachers, two announcing towers and a 26-foot starting hill. On a separate track, 8-year-olds on miniature bikes could safely pedal.

"Something for everyone," said John David, chief operating officer of USA BMX in March. "It would transform the riders' experience here."

The only obstacle? County funding, according to planners.

Oldsmar City Council members hope the proposed track would qualify for revenue from the county hotel bed tax, which raises annually about $25 million. But several local projects want a chunk once bonds for the construction of Tropicana Field are paid off in 2015. The Tampa Bay Rays say they need a new baseball stadium, for example. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium wants a new $160 million home.

For now, the project remains in limbo as the city, county and USA BMX continue to discuss details.

"I believe it's going to happen here. It's immensely popular and we're most deserving," said Oldsmar track manager John Sawyer, who sees hundreds of kids ride up and down the hills during Tuesday evening practices in Canal Park. "People are getting excited. It would put Oldsmar on the global map."

Each March, he said, Oldsmar hosts the Gator Nationals, one of the largest BMX competitions in North America. Last year, according to USA BMX, about 800 riders from 43 states and 16 countries raced.

"The new track would attract many more riders and fans," he said. "Many more people to spend money here."

On a recent Tuesday evening, Canal Park was packed with parents, kids and elite BMX riders sharing the well-groomed clay track. Risann Curry, 41, watched her sons Trey, 15, and Ryder, 12, race over the red dirt.

"We definitely need a bigger track," said Curry, a riding team manager from Ozona. "It's obvious we've already outgrown this one. The sport is tremendously popular here because — look around! We have a blast."

On the bleachers nearby, sipping lime Gatorade, sat 13-year-old Mya Yocum, a self-described future Olympian.

"I practice almost every day. I want to win," said Yocum of Odessa whose bike is well-scuffed and bright red from frequent practices and national competitions. "I'd like bigger hills here."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

     
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