BMX team hopes to boost Australia’s fortunes

The 32-rider men's field has an extra round of quarterfinals that start today.

Written by Agencies | London | Published: August 9, 2012 12:57:03 pm

BMX rider Sam Willoughby wasn’t about to be drawn into a conversation about why Australia has struggled in some of its better sports at the London Olympics.

He doesn’t swim,at least not competitively,so you can’t blame him for his nation’s disappointing showing in the pool. And he didn’t have a say in the London Velodrome,where Australia’s traditionally strong track cycling program only managed one gold medal – on the final day of competition.

Willoughby’s sole focus is on delivering in BMX,which is part of the Olympic program for the second time.

“I’m not superstitious. There’s no curses,” Willoughby said,when asked of the Australian team’s modest success in London. “I did the work and I have 100 percent faith in what I’ve done.”

That’s all that matters to him.

The 20-year-old Willoughby comes into the London Olympics ranked No. 1 in the world by the UCI,cycling’s world governing body. He also has three second-place finishes in World Cup races this year to go along with the world title he won in May in Birmingham,England.

Willoughby isn’t the only Aussie rider with medal potential,either.

The team is fielding the maximum of three riders in the men’s event – Brian Kirkham and Khalen Young are also in the field. And on the women’s side,time trial world champion Caroline Buchanan and her teammate Lauren Reynolds are medal hopefuls.

“I like pressure,” said Buchanan,who posted a time of 38.434 seconds during her seeding run to qualify first for the semifinals on Friday. “Diamonds are made under pressure.”

Reynolds had the ninth-fastest time of the 16 women who took to the course on the opening day of the BMX competition. The riders will be put into two semifinals of eight,and after three races,the four from each with the best cumulative results advance to Friday’s finals.

The 32-rider men’s field has an extra round of quarterfinals that start today.

Willoughby posted a time of 38.496 during his seeding run to finish sixth,more than half a second behind the time of Dutch rider Raymon van der Biezen. Young was 17th and Kirkham finished 22nd.

At least all three Australian riders finished. American rider Brooke Crain and Edzus Treimanis of Latvia crashed on the same hill at the start of the final straight during their rides. Crain was shaken up but managed to get back on her bike,but Treimanis appeared woozy when he finally stood and walked across the finish line.

Both riders received the last seed in their competitions.

“I’m feeling fine,” Crain said about 90 minutes after her fall. ”I got the wind knocked out of me and a bit of a bruised thigh,but I’m feeling fine.”

Crashes are hardly rare in the chaotic world of BMX.

In fact,it was a crash during practice on July 30 that put U.S. rider Arielle Martin in the hospital with a lacerated liver and collapsed right lung. That cleared the way for the 19-year-old Crain,the first alternate,to make her Olympic debut.

It was hardly a surprise that a couple of riders went down on the harrowing course,which was slightly altered from a test event to make it even faster.

“It’s really fast,” Reynolds conceded. “It’s fast,(but) it flows really nicely,so the design is great and I think it’s going to make for some really good racing.”

The Australian team has poured plenty of resources into its BMX program after being shut out of the medals in Beijing,when the sport born in the United States made its Olympic debut.

Maris Strombergs of Latvia won that first men’s gold medal,and the U.S. team took silver and bronze. Strombergs is back to defend his title and had the 11th-fastest seeding ride.

“Beijing was a bit of the unknown,” Buchanan said. ”It was the first year for BMX in the Olympics. Since then the sport has progressed,the science has progressed,the riders have stepped up. There’s so much more depth,the field here in comparison to Beijing is a big step ahead.”

All of which makes a medal a more difficult proposition.

Track sprinter Anna Meares finally won cycling gold for Australia in the individual sprint on Tuesday,when she beat Britain’s Victoria Pendleton in the final.

Otherwise,it was a silver and three bronze medals on the wooden surface of the velodrome – an altogether humbling performance after the six gold medals and 10 overall that the Australians won at the 2004 Athens Games.

Just like Willoughby,though,Buchanan said there’s nothing the BMX team can do about that.

They’re only focusing on what they can control.

“It’s good to be out here on the big stage,” Buchanan said. “I’ve had a really good lead-in to this event. I haven’t had many races since the world championships,but I finished on a good note. Training has been going really well. I’m confident and ready to go.”

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