Every four years, we gather in front of our TVs to cheer on our national representatives as they perform awe-inspiring feats in the Summer Olympic Games. While these remarkably talented and dedicated athletes are deserving of our praise, hard-working groups behind the scenes are also worthy of acknowledgment. For example, on August 18 and 19 at the 2016 Rio Olympics, bicycle motocross (BMX) riders will compete on a track that took two years to design and build. And the team behind it happens to be based here in Columbus.

Every four years, we gather in front of our TVs to cheer on our national representatives as they perform awe-inspiring feats in the Summer Olympic Games. While these remarkably talented and dedicated athletes are deserving of our praise, hard-working groups behind the scenes are also worthy of acknowledgment. For example, on August 18 and 19 at the 2016 Rio Olympics, bicycle motocross (BMX) riders will compete on a track that took two years to design and build. And the team behind it happens to be based here in Columbus.

Elite Trax was founded in 2010 by Tom Ritzenthaler and Johan Lindstrom, with help from the now-defunct, Columbus-based National Bicycle League (NBL). Ritzenthaler gained a wealth of experience prior to opening the business. Watching his father manage a BMX track in Norwalk, Ohio, Ritzenthaler learned how to ride and maintain tracks early in life. After years of professional racing, he focused on building, and eventually landed a job constructing tracks for the NBL in the 1990s.

"I would make my tracks with a lot of jumps on them, which some people didn't like, probably because they couldn't jump well," Ritzenthaler said via Facebook from the team's apartment in Rio. "I was trying to push the sport to new levels, with bigger jumps and faster tracks."

He saw great success with the "berm jump," which he introduced at the annual Christmas Classic competition in Columbus.

"Pro riders would jump over the top of the amateur race course," he said. "It was a big deal in 1998, but now [it's] pretty common on a lot of my BMX tracks."

Ritzenthaler went on to help start the BMX Supercross World Cup series in 2003. The supercross format elevated the sport by including more challenging track features, such as the eight-meter start ramp, according to Ritzenhaler.

Ritzenthaler employed the new format when he built the track for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing on behalf of Union Cycling Internationale (UCI). It was the first-ever appearance of BMX in the Games.

"The Chinese dictionary did not have a symbol for BMX, so I guess we invented a new symbol for the Chinese," he said. "We had to develop, from the ground up, all the rules, guidelines and format for this brand-new Olympic sport. I'm very proud to be part of this process."

Following his success in Beijing, Ritzenthaler decided to break away from the UCI to have more job flexibility. "We saw that there was a business need in the world for more large-scale BMX race venues," he said. "Under Elite Trax, we can build anywhere and any style of BMX track, like the Red Bull R.Evolution races we did in Berlin."

Still, the UCI hired Elite Trax to design the supercross tracks for both the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.

"You would think it would be easier after doing two Olympic tracks, but it was not that great here in Brazil," Ritzenthaler said.

Building was delayed due to problems with the general contractor and the construction of a new, admission-free pool in a whitewater kayaking center next to the track.

"Word got out … and close to 20,000 kids were in the pool. Riots broke out and the whole Deodoro Complex, where we were supposed to be working, had to be shut down by the military," Ritzenthaler said. "It should have taken us three visits to complete this BMX track, but this took us six visits."

Naturally, Ritzenthaler attempted to add some extreme features to the new track, including a very tall "step-up jump."

"But the riders told me to tone it down after the test event we had last August," he said.

He also tried to play around with different pathway levels for men and women after the first turn on the course, but was blocked by the UCI.

"It has been a test of our patience," Senior Builder Mitch Horne said of their experience in Rio. "But we are very happy with the outcome of the track, and I can't wait to see how [it] looks on TV."

Next, Elite Trax will head to Switzerland to build a new track for a BMX club.

"I want to continue pushing the limits of our BMX tracks and riders," Ritztenthaler said. "Over the years, I have seen many things in the BMX industry, and just when I think I have it all figured out, something changes, which helps keep me on my toes."

***

Tom Ritzenthaler

Age: 46

Day Job: Elite Trax President and Founder

Hometown: Sandusky

Current Neighborhood: Blacklick

Currently listening to: Social Distortion

Favorite Restaurant in Columbus: Cherbourg Bakery

Favorite Movie: "Old School"

Favorite TV Show: "Tosh.0"

What could you medal in if it were an Olympic event?: "Swimming…in a pool of PBR."