If Todd Wells was overwhelmed the first time he made the Olympics, he was confident in his second appearance.
His season had gone well, and he figured he had a chance to finish in the top five, if not win a medal, in the 2008 Games in Beijing.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself," he said, "and completely melted down in the race."
He finished 43rd.
If it wasn't the worst mountain bike race of his life, he said, it was "on the top-five list."
The four years since have given Wells - who spends his winters training in Tucson near his Starr Pass condo - plenty of time to figure out why.
Maybe, in his second Olympic trip, Wells felt the weight of his own expectations. Or he was nervous, knowing that, for the second time, he was on his sport's biggest stage.
"As a mountain bike racer, we don't participate in front of the world very often," he said. "You certainly don't have to go through security and metal detectors to get to the races."
The 36-year-old will get a chance to fix his Olympic failing - just barely.
Two months ago, he was named a coaches' selection to the USA team.
He had qualified for his previous two appearances by meeting criteria. He struggled this year and crashed in his first World Cup appearance.
"More than his experience, his track record over the last two years at high-level international competition was why" he was picked, said Marc Gullickson, the USA Cycling Olympic mountain bike coach. "He's been able to get the job done the past few years in big events."
Wells, who once attended the UA and worked nearby at IBM, is the epitome of perseverance, Gullickson said.
"During your cycling career, a lot of guys lose focus or lose steam or lose motivation, and their results take a dip, and eventually they find their way out of cycling," he said. "If you can persevere and get through those low times, you can stay in the sport as long as he's been in it."
Experience means knowing how to handle the Olympics this time around.
"I know that adding the pressure doesn't help anything," said Wells, who lives in Durango, Colo., the rest of the year.
He's taken more practical steps, too, to ensure a better result.
Rather than live in the Olympic Village, Wells will stay close to the course at Hadleigh Farm.
The educational working farm, owned by the Salvation Army, is about an hour's drive from the village. Wells figures he'll save two hours a day by skipping the commute.
He'll stay in a rented condo with riders from around the world he knows from the circuit, plus a masseuse, cook and mechanic.
"So it will feel like any other race," he said. "It'll be an added feeling of comfort."
Wells admits a top-10 finish would help erase his last Olympic result.
"It's one thing to race poorly and let your team down, or yourself down," he said. "But it's another thing where, if you win, you can shine some light on my sport. And my country."
He promises this will be his last Games. After London, he'll focus on endurance events that don't translate to the Olympics.
He'll enjoy every second, even an hour away from the craziness.
"The first time I went, I had never expected to go, so that was great," he said. "In Beijing I had a really great year and was hoping for a good result.
"I figured that'd be the last time I was going to the Olympics. And now here I am again.
"It's always been more than I've ever imagined as a kid."
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