The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 BMX Racing came to its explosive conclusion as Beth Shriever from Great Britain and the Netherlands' Niek Kimmann won gold medals in the women’s and men’s finals at the Ariake Urban Sports Park on Friday. After an action-packed two days the BMX Racing medals were shared two apiece between the Netherlands, Colombia and Great Britain.
“I’m in shock. To even be here is an achievement in itself,” said Bethany Shriever. “To make the final is an achievement in itself. To win a medal, honestly I’m so over the moon. It just means so much. I gave it absolutely everything I had then – and I was rewarded.”
“I know I am young and the track suits me. If I ever become Olympic Champion it’s now!” said Niek Kimmann, who has been training at the UCI World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland. His win was all the more sweet, as he came back from a mid-week crash to claim victory.
In BMX Racing, anything can happen – and after years of preparation, there were some big names of the sport who didn’t make it to Olympic finals day.
For Simon Marquart (SUI), Yoshi Nagasako (JPN) and Anthony Dean (AUS) their Olympic dream was over on the first day as they failed to qualify for the semi-finals. And it was the same for Manon Valentino (FRA), Sae Hatakayama (JPN) and UCI Pump Track World Champion Payton Ridenour (USA).
With riders of such quality being whittled down, the eight-rider semi finals were stacked. To add to the suspense, it started to rain just before the gate was supposed to drop, so the athletes were given an opportunity to make quick adjustments to their equipment. Racing on a wet track also tends to make the competition even closer.
When it's time to deliver at the Olympic Games, Mariana Pajón (COL) is the woman to count on. After two of the three semi-final heat 1 runs ‘the Queen of BMX’ led with 3 points. Saya Sakakibara (AUS) and Felicia Stancil (USA) each had 6, Rebecca Petch (NZL) and Drew Mechielsen (CAN) had gathered 10 points, while Alise Willoughby (USA) and Merel Smulders (NED) had 11. The last semi-final heat 1 run was going to be crucial.
Meanwhile, Bethany Shriever (GBR) continued where she left off in semi-final heat 2 by winning the first two rounds with apparent ease – to lead with 2 points -, but with four riders sharing third place on 9 points each, the situation was tight.
Making predictions in BMX Racing is tough – as demonstrated by run 3 of the women’s semi-final heat 1. Sakakibara and Willoughby were battling for the lead on the third straight when both crashed hard; neither of them made it through to the final 8. Merel Smulders and Mechielsen profited from the situation to qualify in 3rd and 4th respectively behind Stancil and Pajón.
With two 8th place finishes already in the first two runs, one of the favourites for a medal, Laura Smulders (NED), was already out before it started. In run 3 of heat 2, once again it was Shriever going for the win with Simone Christensen (DEN) in tow. Axelle Etienne (FRA) and Lauren Reynolds (USA) managed to score the last two qualifying spots.
After two of the three qualifying runs French rider Romain Mahieu led the men’s semi-final heat 1 with 3 points followed by the 2016 Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields (USA) on 4, Sylvain André (FRA) with 5, and Carlos Ramirez (COL).
In the other men’s semi-final Alfredo Campo (ECU) fared well after two runs with 4 points followed by Kimmann who started from lane 8 both times, Joris Daudet (FRA) with 5 points, and Kye Whyte (GBR).
When the gate dropped for run 3 of semi-final heat 1 there was a big crash in the first turn involving Fields. Mahieu was out front to win and earned himself a spot in the final. The crash shook up the qualifying spots sending Carlos Ramirez to a 2nd place qualifying position and even though André and Fields went down in the first turn, they both qualified.
The third run of semi-final heat 2 confirmed the form of the athletes who were already in the qualifying positions: Kimmann, Whyte, Daudet and Campo made it through.
Whoever is dominant in the qualification rounds is one thing, but the competition ultimately comes down to going for an Olympic medal in the last race of the event.
Choosing gate 6 in the final is usually not a favourite choice but this time it worked in the women’s final for Beth Shriever as she hit a holeshot and tried to hold that precious lead till the very end. With a track that’s 495 metres long it’s never an easy task, and it could be daunting to consider there are seven very fast women right behind. Mariana Pajón moved to second position and pushed Shriever to the limit. Pajón had to settle for a silver medal while the young Briton celebrated Olympic gold. Merel Smulders held onto spot three, bringing home the bronze medal for the Netherlands.
With three athletes in the men’s final, French hopes were high for BMX medals but it was the Netherlands' Niek Kimmann who put the power down from lane 8 to grab the lead. His biggest competition on the inside came from Kye Whyte who had the gate of his life from position 6. The two of them rode perfect races, leaving a fight for the bronze medal amongst the rest of the pack. Carlos ‘The Magician’ Ramirez cut a sharp move in turn one and shot to third, only for Frenchman Joris Daudet to regain the place. Towards the end of the final Daudet’s front wheel washed out and Ramirez, a former UCI World Cycling Centre trainee, claimed the bronze medal spot.
As the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 BMX Racing concluded, two medals went to the Netherlands, two to Colombia and two to Great Britain.
1 - Beth Shriever (GBR), 4.358sec
2 - Mariana Pajón (COL), 44.448sec (+0.090)
3 - Merel Smulders (NED), 44.721sec (+0.363)
1 - Niek Kimmann (NED), 39.053sec
2 - Kye Whyte (GBR), 39.167sec (+0.114)
3 - Carlos Ramirez (COL), 40.572sec (+1.519)