Donny Robinson is ready for China. Are you ready for him?
THE BMX TRACK
When the International Olympic Committee voted in June 2003 to add BMX supercross to the Beijing Games, Robinson was just a struggling rider earning $14,000 a year—if he was lucky. "I heard about the Olympics and thought, I want to do this," he says. "I wanted to be the best." But before he could punch his ticket to China, Robinson had to find a way to win, having finished first just once in more than 20 starts from 2002 to 2005. "In 2006, I read a book that changed my way of thinking," says the 25-year-old. Since then, he has snagged two national championships while earning $100K a year as the sport's top rider. The book? "I'm not telling," he says. "I can't let everyone in on my secret."
A DIFFERENT COURSE
Robinson latched onto BMX at age 8 after watching his dad race motorcycles. When the jumps, banks and turns of supercross weren't enough to satisfy him, he added gymnastics and musical theater to his arsenal. ("I love to dance," says Robinson, whose post-Olympic aspirations include Broadway and Dancing With the Stars.) When he turned 13, his parents urged him to choose one sport. Easy. "I get more joy out of riding my bike," says the 5'5", 150-pound free spirit, who turned pro at 18. And thanks to his gymnastics training, he has avoided major injury. "I know how to take a fall," he says. "Plus, I can still do a backflip."
Though he's known for his tireless work ethic in the gym and intensity on the track, Robinson attracts just as much attention for being a goofball. He donned a clip-on earring before a recent race in Australia, and he cruises his hometown of Napa, Calif., sporting a fanny pack and blasting *NSYNC. Nevertheless, the self-described "dorky kid" has become the face of cool heading into Beijing. His light-up-the-block personality and superclean living (he doesn't drink or smoke) make him an advertiser's dream. "Donny's it," says Michael Hand, a sports-marketing exec for Hershey's, one of Robinson's major sponsors. "He's the kid you can bring home to Mom. But on the flip side, he's a kick-ass guy with attitude and swagger."
With BMX, Olympics officials believe they've found the snowboarding of summer: a youth-targeted sport that promises enough excitement to draw new fans and high ratings. (Sure to get viewers pumped up: The 30-foot-high start hill at the Beijing supercross track is two-and-a-half times taller than those at pro events.) Robinson is more than happy to lead the charge. "If I win the gold medal, I'll be as big as Shaun White," he says, blushing. "How cool would that be?"