BEIJING, Jan. 18 -- For the next seven months, American BMX racer Mike Day can train on the Olympic track whenever he wants.
All without leaving Southern California.
"It's surreal," Day said. "But it's perfect."
A perfect replica, that is.
USA Cycling and the United States Olympic Committee teamed to build an exact duplicate of the steep, demanding, bumpy-and-jumpy BMX course that'll be used at the Beijing Games in August. Training at the venue began this week, with the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony set to take place on Monday.
It's on the grounds of the Olympic Training Center a few miles (kilometers) south of San Diego, not far from the Mexican border.
But to Day and the rest of the American Olympic hopefuls, it's like training in Beijing's backyard.
"To us, it's the greatest thing ever," Day said. "This is the ideal place for a pro BMX racer, for sure. I think they see a lot of potential and a lot of hope for Beijing. Now it's on our shoulders to do it. The guys who qualify, we're already pretty talented, and now we'll be prepared to the fullest."
The Americans have no doubt that every nuance of this track, from the steep, 40-foot (12-meter) descent at the start ramp to the type of banked blacktop in the turns, is exactly the same as what was done in Beijing.
That's because the same builder did them both.
When a major cycling organization wants a BMX track built, they call Tom Ritzenthaler, who's raced for the past 33 years and now is the premier track designer in the world. He built the one in Beijing, and leaves next week for Greece to build that country's first course.
But only the United States has the replica of the Beijing course.
"It's almost unfair," said longtime standout racer Jill Kintner, 26. "It's a big edge."
Not that she minds, of course.
It's not some shady back-room deal that brought this track to Chula Vista; no other nation contacted Ritzenthaler in time to build a training site, although others, including Australia, did inquire about his availability. USA Cycling officials, in a goodwill gesture, are expected to invite other nations to the training center for a brief camp later this year.
"It takes a lot of time and a lot of experience to do this," said Ritzenthaler, who built the Beijing track for about 3.2 million U.S. dollars (2.2 million euro) but constructed the U.S. replica for considerably less, although no one knows what the final total is exactly.
Much like when snowboarding made its debut on sport's biggest stage, the U.S. is expected to use BMX as a way of quickly enhancing the medal count.
"That's kind of the idea, to build a facility at the highest level, and I think the USOC recognized our strength as a country in this sport since we created it back in the 1970s," said Mike King, the BMX program director for USA Cycling. "This has definitely raised the bar, and I think we'll see the results come August."