Sam Willoughby, Australia’s first Olympic medallist in BMX cycling, says he hopes his success will inspire even more children back home to take up the sport.
Willoughby won the silver medal on Day 14, and was still beaming a day later as he detailed his excitement.
“Obviously, as an athlete, you come in and you want to win, and that was the goal for me, but in saying that I’m very happy to be a medallist,” he said.
“I’m still young, and I’m hopeful I can remain at the front of the sport and be an ambassador, and hopefully help grow the sport within Australia and make it bigger and better.
“Hopefully, kids will get a BMX bike and make it their chosen sport.”
Willoughby, who will celebrate his 21st birthday on August 15, said he believed BMX cycling in general would get a huge kick out of the success of the event in London, and that the sport had proven it should remain at Olympic level.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a fair bit of attention through all of this,” he said. “And I think people are definitely jumping on-board the sport.
“I think BMX is pretty secure at Olympic level. I think they are keen to have a sport that appeals to the younger generation. The venue here was sold out and there were a lot of famous names in the crowd.
“It brings an extreme aspect to the Olympics, and it’s great for the crowd because it’s exciting and it doesn’t take a long time to run.”
Asked whether he thought it was fair that, in an event where something can easily go wrong and ruin a competitor’s chances, the final came down to just one race, instead of three like the semi-finals, Willoughby said he had no problem with the format.
“I think it’s pretty much the same as other sports,” he said. “We have a number of heats to give everyone a good chance to qualify, and then we have one race as the final.
That’s how it is in BMX – one lap for the win.
“Maybe three races in the final would be fairer, but it would also create more confusion for the spectators, trying to keep up with the points tally.”
Willoughby said he didn’t see sports like freestyle BMX or skateboarding coming into the Olympics.
“My opinion is that it’s better to keep sports in that are more clear-cut,” he said. “First past the post is the winner. Judged sports are always hard (to follow).”
New Zealand BMX champion Sarah Walker completed some unfinished business at the Olympics today.
Walker, 24, and one of the world’s leading riders for several years, worked hard to earn the silver medal in the women’s event.
That success will help atone for her disappointment at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when, as one of the favourites, she finished fourth.
Though she made no mistake in the final, following super-slick Colombian Mariana Pajon all the way and finishing a clear second, Walker had some flutters on her path to the final.
In the three-race semi-finals, she needed to finish in the top four in her section to advance to the final. Her finishing placings in the semis were fifth, fourth and third – good enough to advance, if only just.
The conditions were obviously quite challenging. There were a number of spills in the women’s races and in the men’s semi-finals, New Zealander Marc Willers hurt himself when he fell in his first outing.
He sowed spirit when he got back on his bike and finished the race, but when he lined up again he was clearly not at his best and trailed in last. His qualifying hopes gone, he did not contest the third race.
In the women’s final, Walker recorded a time of 38.113s, behind the flying Pajon’s 37.706s. Laura Smulders of The Netherlands was third in 38.231s. New Zealand BMX coach Ken Cools described it as the best ride he had ever seen from Walker.
The Bay of Plenty rider showed a magnificent big-time temperament today.
Going into her third ride of the semis, she was on the point of elimination, but came through with a very solid ride. In the final, when she didn’t have the kindest of lane draws, she was outstanding.
“The key was overcoming my fears,” Walker said later. “I never really believed in myself in Beijing.”
She mentioned that she had put in two years of hard work with sports psychologist Dave Galbraith and that it had paid off today.
She was proud that when the chips were down going in the semi-finals she had got the job done and with how she’d ridden in the final.
Willers had a solid second placing in his first race and was in second in the second heat when he made a mistake on a small rise and crashed. The injuries to his knee and hip ruled him out of the third heat and a potential spot in the semifinal.
“I felt fatigued in my legs and made a mistake. That was it and I fell really heavily. I don’t really know what happened but I could barely walk after.”
Australian world champion Sam Willoughby has added a silver Olympic medal to his impressive CV with a strong ride in the final today.
Willoughby, 20, was the fastest rider through the semi-final heats, but lowered his colors to Beijing gold medallist Maris Strombergs in the ride-off for gold.
Strombergs won in the slick time of 37.576sec. for the 450m on the open-air Olympic Park track, with Willoughby coming in 0.353sec. behind him.
In the women’s event, Caroline Buchanan’s Olympic dream ended in tears when she finished fifth in the final after posting the fastest in the semi-finals today.
Buchanan was distraught at her performance behind Colombia’s Marion Pajon, who won the gold medal in a time of 37.706sec. for the 430m.
“Right now, it’s like a bit of a nightmare, I just want to get out of here,” a distraught Buchanan said immediately after her ride.
“I was riding so good today. This is the best I ever rode in my life. I prepared well, I did every little one percenter leading into this race, I’d beaten Shanaze (Reade of Great Britain), who I knew was going to be one of the strongest competitors here in the motos.
“I had everything in my favour and I don’t know if it was the pressure of the gate, but once I got back in the field I couldn’t come back.”
Image courtesy of Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Australians Sam Willoughby and Khalen Young have qualified for tomorrow’s BMX semi-finals with strong performances today – particularly in the crucial fourth run.
The other Australian in the field, Brian Kirkham, 26 from Adelaide, fell in each of his first two runs, and failed to make up the points required in the last three runs to make the semi-finals.
Willoughby was forced into two extra rides after missing on a countback with his first three qualifying runs.
The 20 year-old, ran fourth, first and third in his three runs over the 450m circuit at the open-air Olympic Park venue to amass eight points, the same as Latvia’s Maris Strombergs, gold medallist at the Beijing Olympics.
But Strombergs won through ahead of Willoughby because he had a second, fifth and first placing in his three runs. The top points earner of Willoughby’s heat was Twan van Gendt of the Netherlands, who had seven points.
Another Dutchman, Raymon van der Biezen, the fastest qualifier on Wednesday, won all three runs in the opening heat to qualify ahead of Latvian, Edzus Treimanis.
Young, 27, from Perth, fell in his first run, but recovered well to finish second and third in his next two attempts, to miss qualifying automatically by only one point. He, too, had to qualify via the two extra rides.
But after brilliant fourth runs both riders conserved energy by just going through the motions in their fifth qualifying ride, knowing they had secured enough points to get through.
However, Kirkham was eliminated from the semi-finals, despite winning his fourth run and finishing second in his fifth.
Those efforts gave him a combined total of 25 points, four points behind fourth qualifier Zabala Oquendo of Colombia.
Willoughby confirmed he had merely gone through the motions in his fifth ride, having already accumulated enough points (16) to secure third spot in his heat.
“I tried to conserve energy for tomorrow,” he said. “It was a learning curve for me and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Young, who qualified with 19 points in the first heat, was sore after the quarterfinals and will spend time in recovery tonight, according to coach Wade Bootes.
Bootes said the falls suffered by Kirkham were part and parcel of BMX racing, and over which he had no control.
“It was a typical BMX day and some days things don’t go your way,” Bootes said.
“We definitely had the hard way through today. We got two people through, and they’re going back to recover for four full laps tomorrow now.
“It’s war out there and we’re just going to take each race as a battle to get to the end out there, and whoever wants it more is going to get to the end and win.
“For Brian, it was not even his fault. People were crashing in front of him and taking him down.
“At least he showed the world he’s fast enough and capable of doing things, but this sport is brutal, and you’ve just got to try to be aggressive out there, keep clean, and get a good lap to the finish.”
Sarah Walker has qualified second fastest in the women’s BMX seeding today.
Walker was one of only four riders under the 39-second barrier and bettered by world champion Caroline Buchanan (Australia).
“I was really pleased with that run. It was clean and I beat home some good riders. It’s a good confidence boost,” said Sarah.
She was fifth to start and her time of 38.644 held up until the final run of the top seed who clocked 38.434sec.
The women now have a day off with the 16 riders going through to the semifinal and then final on Friday.
World number 7 Marc Willers was 10th fastest in the men’s seeding run with teammate Kurt Pickard 16th fastest.
Willers clocked 38.687 for his run.
“I am not a time triallist so that was good. I was happy to get the key jumps right which was my focus. Now I can’t wait for racing,” said Marc.
Pickard had a solid 39.057 to be 16th of the 32 riders.
“I was nervous so it was good to have a clean run and get that first lap out of the way. I am looking forward to racing tomorrow.”
Kurt is in tomorrow’s first heat with the fastest qualifier Raymon van der Biezen (NED), Aussie Khalen Young and slick Frenchman Quentin Caleyron but otherwise has a good chance to progress.
Marc has a tougher job in heat three with 2011 world champion Joris Daudet and top Americans Nic Long and Davie Herman. Should he progress he will tackle world champion Sam Willoughby and multi world champ Maris Strombergs in the semifinals.
Tomorrow’s action sees the four groups compete in five motos. However the top two riders after three motos are automatically advanced to Friday’s semifinals, and the remaining two spots decided after the final two motos.
Image courtesy of BikeNZ/Getty Images
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