Jimmy Watkins arrived to the VELO Sports Center on Saturday night to news his record had been broken. His Flying 200 Meter mark of 10.018 had been shattered by not only one rider, but eight during the Men’s Sprint qualifying time trial as part of the Tissot UCI Track Cycling World Cup Los Angeles.
“Records are meant to be broken,” Watkins said during Saturday’s evening session of World Cup racing. “I knew the first World Cup or elite level event would be an opportunity for all of the great athletes to potentially break it. You know it’s going to happen sooner or later.”
Watkins joined several other Olympians, Paralympians and former elite track cyclists at the Carson, Calif., velodrome to watch the world’s best compete in the final World Cup of the season.
He had taken the less likely route to set that Flying 200 Meter record. He didn’t pick up track cycling until he was 21 years old, and juggled time training and racing with serving as a full-time firefighter in his home of Bakersfield, Calif. He would work extra hours and trade shifts to save up enough vacation hours to compete around the world. About once a week, he would make the 120-mile drive to the VELO Sports Center – the closest track – to train.
“It was a big deal at home when I was competing because I was still a full-time firefighter,” Watkins said. "I had a lot of support from my department – guys would work different duties for me so I could go race. It was a big for our community and the fire department.”
In the spring of 2012, during an Olympic Trials event to select the U.S. cycling team for the London 2012 Olympic Games, Watkins posted his time of 10.018 at the VELO Sports Center to not only set the record, but also earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. He went on to finish sixth in Men’s Sprint in London.
The first of the eight riders to break Watkins’ VELO Sports Center record on Saturday was New Zealand’s Ethan Mitchell. He clocked a time of 9.850, later matched by Denis Dmitriev, representing the Gazprom-RusVelo team, and a total of eight riders posted times below Watkins’ mark.
Mitchell has been on the fast track since a young age, following a more direct path to the elite cycling ranks. He became a Junior World Champion in 2009 in the Men’s Team Sprint. He went on to compete at the London 2012 Games, and he earned a rainbow jersey when the New Zealand Men’s Team Sprint squad won the World Championships in 2016. The same Kiwi team captured silver at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“I didn’t really have an idea what the track record was,” said Mitchell. “You don’t ever go out trying to get records – you just try to go as fast as you can. That time was a personal best for me by a decent amount, so I was stoked when I saw the time, then someone came up and said it was a track record.”
Mictchell spoke with Watkins on Saturday night, and Watkins mentioned his record was in Mitchell’s hands now. The two had met when Watkins was competing, and they hung out in London around the Olympics.
While Mitchell has April’s World Championships in sight, Watkins has shifted gears. He continues to serve as a firefighter and now splits his time between his work and being a father.
“I’m glad I was able to race. But, right now, I don’t really miss it,” Watkins said. “I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old, and I don’t have time to think about it anymore. I’m immersed in being a dad.”