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By Rory Carroll

HENDERSON, Nevada (Reuters) – Gold medal-winning BMX racer Connor Fields said Americans have an advantage heading into the Tokyo Games since athletes in the United States were able to get back to competitive racing quicker than riders in other countries.

After a year in which the coronavirus pandemic led him to explore new methods of staying in shape like hiking, mountain biking and setting up a gym in his garage, racing has returned and Fields is fully prepared to defend his 2016 gold medal.

“We’ve been very lucky in America. We were one of the first countries that got back to racing, so I’ve had plenty of gate drops,” Fields told Reuters during an interview at his Nevada home.

“From November through May of this year, I’ve raced just as much as I’d typically race, which I think is a huge advantage for us. I’m in that rhythm and Europe is kind of just getting started racing again now.”

The United States has been among the world leaders in rolling out the vaccine. More than 165 million people have received at least one dose and nearly 132 million people were fully vaccinated as of last Wednesday, according to government data.

Like so many others, the 28-year-old Fields saw his plans for 2020 upended by the pandemic.

“It was a bit of a bummer,” he said.

“I started out the year and I was supposed to be going to the Olympics, getting married and graduating from college and I did one of the three. I graduated from college, which was an amazing thing and I’m really happy with that,” said Fields, who is now an alumni of UNLV.

“I know the other two will come.”

With questions about whether the postponed Tokyo Games will actually go ahead amid pushback from the Japanese public, Fields can only focus on his own preparations.

“I hope they Olympics happens, I hope it can happen in a way that everyone feels comfortable with, especially those in Japan,” he said.

“But at the end of the day it’s so far above my head and out of my control that I just try to do what I can do. And I’m training, I’m preparing as best as I can and I’m hoping that it happens and if it doesn’t, there’s nothing I can do.”

The Tokyo Games are scheduled to begin on July 23.

(Reporting by Mike Blake and Alan Devall in Henderson, Nevada; Writing by Rory Carroll, editing by Ed Osmond)