By Mary Milliken

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - BMX cyclists might have the fastest first two seconds of any event in the Olympic Games - coming out of a gate on an eight-meter high wall and going from zero to 56 km per hour in just two beats.

For American racer and two-time Olympian Connor Fields, those two seconds account for 75 percent of his training and often determine if he can win the race which usually lasts less than 40 seconds.

"We work our butts off and I think we have one of the most difficult sports in the Games because we require so many different skills," said Fields while training in California before he heads to Rio de Janeiro for his event on Aug. 17-19.

"You have to have reaction time, explosive strength and speed to get off the blocks and out of the starting gate. But you also need body awareness and ability like a gymnast," he added.

Past the initial steep hill, it's then on to 30 to 40 jumps, simultaneously with eight other riders. The opportunities for things to go awry are ubiquitous and Fields knows all too well how the dream of gold can slip away in a matter of seconds.

At the London Olympics in 2012, Fields was the No. 1 seed in the final at just 19 years of age, the youngest racer in the field. He crashed, finished seventh and as he describes it "at 19 it is hard not to seem like the end of the world."

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RAISING PROFILE OF BMX

Now 23, Fields has more balance in his life and keeps things in perspective.

"If I can leave the track in Rio and say I did my absolute best and whether I get first, second, third, seventh, don't make the final, then there is nothing else that I can do," he said.

That kind of attitude helped him deal with a major injury in April, a broken hand that left him with big stitches on his wrist, a crucial area for a cyclist holding on to handlebars.

He said he was fortunate to have access to a top hand surgeon and the Olympic rehab team. And he lucked out when U.S. BMX coaches made him a discretionary selection for the U.S. team despite his injury.

He squeezed his recovery time down to two to three months and started riding again before the bone was completely healed.

"At this point, it is not 100 percent, but it doesn't impinge my ability to ride or do anything on the track," said Fields.

Fields is currently ranked 14th in the world and third on the U.S. team. But he also stands out as one of a handful of U.S. athletes chosen for the Ralph Lauren fashion house team in Rio.

The square jawed, 1.83-metre-tall blond from Las Vegas says he hopes his fashion status helps the sport he loves.

"I know I may be biased, but I think BMX is so cool and one of the best sports in the world," Fields said. "If being a Ralph Lauren athlete can help get more BMX on TV then I am happy."

(Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Tom Brown)