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Cycling - Tue, Jul. 3, 2012
Danny Caluag risked a lot to become an Olympian

COLUMBIA, Ky. -- Danny Caluag risked a lot to become an Olympian.

The Lindsey Wilson College junior will compete in BMX cycling at the 2012 summer games, representing the Philippines. He is the only active collegiate cyclist who will compete at the London games.

To make it there, Caluag had to overcome numerous odds: missing a cut with the United States for the 2008 summer Olympics; losing a professional sponsorship; and battling for dual citizenship.

"This means the world to me," said Caluag. "It was definitely a life-long dream to make the Olympics and I accomplished it. I'm just really looking forward to the games. I'm definitely going for a medal."

A native of Chino, Calif., Caluag was up for a spot in Beijing with the U.S. team in 2008, but he did not make the cut at the Olympic trials.

At that point, Caluag felt he had given his best effort and decided the best decision was to go to college. He eventually wound up at Lindsey Wilson, where he and his wife, Stephanie, enrolled and then were admitted to the Bachelor of Science nursing program.

Between 2008's disappointment and choosing a college, Caluag discovered he could make another run at the Olympics by pursuing dual citizenship. With two Filipino-born parents, Caluag was an ideal candidate to make the Philippines' 2012 Olympic team.

"The dual-citizenship attempt has been a struggle within itself," Caluag said. "I was born in America, but the way it works is if at least one of my parents has citizenship in a country, I can gain the same citizenship."

After months of waiting and filing applications, Caluag received the go-ahead to make the switch, giving him another shot at the Olympics.

"The U.S. has so many great athletes and there are only three slots in BMX," Caluag said. "Some countries have three slots to qualify and only have one good athlete. Knowing that, I thought I could race for the Philippines and maybe be in contention for a medal."

When Caluag decided to ride for LWC, that meant more than becoming another student-athlete who had to balance the demands of athletics with the classroom. He also gave up training with his longtime coach lost his pro sponsorship.

"I love what Lindsey Wilson offered me with cycling and academics," Caluag said. "But some people had a hard time grasping my decision. They would say, ‘You live out in Kentucky, you're not in a big city and you don't have the right resources available to you.'

"Choosing to go to college meant I wouldn't have my old coach and that I would have to train myself. I lost my pro sponsorship because they thought I was most likely not going to the Olympics."

LWC cycling coach David Grigsby felt otherwise, noting Caluag's multitasking skills.

"Danny is the model student-athlete," Grigsby said. "He hasn't chosen an easy road academically being a nursing student. His time is precious, but he still manages to get all of his schoolwork done plus devote time to specific BMX training."

With no sponsor and no specific BMX coach, Caluag did the only thing he could in the rural setting -- he took to his bike and hit the hills.

"I came to school to not constantly have my mind on racing and BMX," Caluag said. "It was hard living in Kentucky at first, but I knew that doing any kind of training was better than nothing.

"I didn't have a BMX track available, but I could do sprints on these hills around campus all day long. People look at me pretty weird, wondering why this kid is doing sprints down the hill, but I just keep doing my thing."

With that attitude, Caluag found himself at the BMX World Championships on May 26 in Birmingham, England.

Just a month removed from his training regimen in Columbia, Caluag was staring down three stories from the starting gate with his sights on Olympic glory.

"There were seven open spots left for countries that hadn't qualified for the Olympics," Caluag said.

A case of pre-race jitters and an early first-round crash had put him in need of a miracle to qualify. 

"I was in fifth place and needed to beat the three guys ahead of me in the next run," he said.

What transpired over the next hour was the perfect storm.

"I finished third in the next heat, but the two guys in front of me in the standings ended up crashing on the first straight," Caluag said. "At that point I just screamed, because it meant only five countries were left for the seven spots, meaning I was finally an Olympian."

As the opening ceremony draws near in London, Caluag is determined to be in the medal hunt.

That desire to not just merely show up comes as no surprise to Grigsby.

"We named Danny our team captain months ago because he is really the shining example of what we want in our athletes," Grigsby said. "His maturity level is far beyond his years, he does everything you ask and then asks to do more.

"I can't imagine how great it's going to be for Danny when his resume says ‘registered nurse' and right below has ‘Olympic athlete.'"

As of late June, the Philippines had qualified just eight total Olympians.

BMX, a sport making its second appearance on the Olympic lineup after an initial run at the 2008 Beijing games, takes place Aug. 8-10.

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