Olympic track cyclists at times reach 45 or even 50 miles an hour. They're so fast that this sport is often described as NASCAR on bikes. It's been a decade since an American won an Olympic medal in track cycling, and the pressure is on for a California contingent competing in London this weekend. Reporter: Adelaide Chen
Jimmy Watkins has the thighs of a Greek god. At a training facility just south of Los Angeles, the Bakersfield native is using all his strength to power his bike down a wooden track. In the last days leading up to the London Games, he's chasing after his coach who's riding a scooter and yelling at him to speed up.
When he's not training, the 29-year-old works as a fire engineer for Kern County.
"He somehow finds the time in the last three or four years he's been doing this to work, raise his family, and train like this and get to this level," says Watkins' co-worker Sam Adams.
Olympic level that is. Watkins was selected as the sole American to compete in the men's sprint, a one-on-one race on a single gear bike. He found out in June he was headed to London.
"It was pretty amazing. Because all the hard work, all the sacrifice, and everything just paying off," Watkins says. "You're just happy you made it."
Many remember when the U.S. men swept track cycling at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, winning medals in four out of five events. At the time, there was only one women's event -- road cycling.
"The announcement that women's road cycling would be included in the Olympics -- and track was soon to follow -- helped spur growth and development in a number of races for women," says Shelley Lucas, a sports professor at Boise State University.
Women's track cycling was first introduced at the 1988 Seoul Games. London will also be a first, where the games offer an equal number of events in track cycling between men and women. And that's good news for Dotsie Bausch of Irvine.
She's competing in the women's team pursuit this weekend. The event is a first for the Olympics. Three cyclists from each country will ride one behind the other, the front position moving to the back after each lap. Bausch knows going in that the American women are currently the fifth fastest in the world, but the difference is, literally, a few seconds.
"We definitely have medal potential. And we definitely have gold possibility," says Bausch.
Bausch's teammate, Sarah Hammer of Riverside County, already has Beijing under her belt. But for this 39-year-old, with a decade-long career in professional road cycling before switching to track, this may be her only shot at the Olympics.
"Just these last couple of months it's been like 'somebody pinch me.' I don't know if it will be my last time, but most likely," Bausch says.
USA Cycling's Jamie Staff is based at the world-class indoor velodrome in Carson, south of L.A. Staff is a gold-medal Olympian who began directing the sprint program two years ago, specializing in short-distance events.
"We haven't performed necessarily worse. We've actually performed a lot better. Since I've been here, we've set two or three national track records in the team sprint. Riders I've trained have set national records six, seven, eight times. So we're developing and improving," Staff says.
He says it will take one or two more Olympic cycles to fully reach their potential. Still, new rules are limiting the number of athletes who can compete at that level, and there's a need for more incentives for Americans to excel at this sport, like scholarships or athlete pay.
"I don't know how they survive, how they pay the bills, but they do," Staff says. "They show up at every single training session. Whenever I say be here, they're here."
Twenty four-year-old Cristin Walker trains at the velodrome. When she found out she didn't qualify for London, she started focusing on 2016.
"You know, I love doing it. I love racing. I love training. I want to see just how good I can be," Walker says.
With that, Walker carries her bike down the stairs to the circular track, clips her shoes into her pedals and jets off, ready for another day of training.
Andrew Khouri contributed to this story.