LONDON (AP) — No wonder Jimmy Watkins is a fast sprinter. He's used to running up slopes with a hose to extinguish fires.
The powerfully built Watkins, a 29-year-old firefighter from Bakersfield, Calif., can already be proud of his achievements at the Olympic Velodrome. On Sunday, he will compete in the quarterfinals of the sprint tournament, track cycling's blue-ribbon event.
Not bad for a guy who doesn't have a specific training program and lives 124 miles (200 kilometers) away from the closest velodrome. He keeps a bike next to his fire engine so he can train.
"When I'm at work, I'm trying to train, but a lot of times we are obviously interrupted because we have to go on a call," he said. "You come back after your call, you finish up your training or you're just too tired."
Watkins became a full-time fireman after trying his hand at track and field, baseball and football. To stay in good shape, he started to ride his bike at the age of 21 and quickly found he was good at handling it. So he started entering road races. But growing up, he was always a good sprint athlete, and his eye began to drift toward track cycling, mass sprints and the unpredictable, fast-paced keirin.
"I thought: 'That's perfect for me.' So I started doing it, and progressed," he said.
Watkins holds four national titles and three national records on the track. He represented his country in various international competitions but would never have imagined to advance so deep in an Olympic tournament. In the next round, Watkins will take on the experienced Shane Perkins of Australia, a contender for the gold medal.
On Friday, Watkins got off to a mediocre start, finishing with the 12th time in the flying 200 meters qualifying lap.
But he then defeated Seiichiro Nakagawa of Japan before demolishing Pavel Kelemen of Czech Republic with a devastating acceleration.
Watkins, who has a 2-year-old daughter, says he is not jealous of the professional racers he is facing in London. He's thankful for his family, and says if he were a full-time cyclist, he couldn't raise his daughter or be at home with his wife. He's also appreciative of all of the guys who are covering his shifts back home at the Kern County Fire Department so he can compete.
"Everybody is just super supportive. It's cool to know that you have a lot of people behind you. It make you not want to let them down because a lot of people have sacrificed a lot for me to be here," he said. "I just want to make sure that I don't waste any of their effort."
In Saturday's other events, Bryan Coquard of France will try to maintain his small lead in the omnium, a newly introduced event which mixes endurance and sprint. Continued...