Fifteen years ago, the BMX wasn’t even recognised by the Olympics.
But this year, at the Tokyo 2020 games, it’s been one of the UK’s most well-performing sports and has even seen Manchester once again become part of Olympics history.
Great Britain has never won a BMX medal before but we’re now bringing four home.
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Earlier this week, Bethany Shriever and Kye Whtye took the gold and silver positions during the women’s and men’s BMX racing competitions.
Declan Brooks, from Portsmouth, won bronze in the men’s BMX freestyle competition this morning while Manchester’s very own Charlotte Worthington made further Olympics history by winning the first gold medal in the Freestyle BMX category.
The 25-year-old became the first woman to ever pull off a spectacular backflip 360 maneuver – beating out America’s three-time world champion Hannah Roberts.
“I’m still waiting to wake up,” Charlotte said after the history-making win.
“I’ve been working for this for absolutely years.
Charlotte Worthington with her gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
(Image: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
“I just wanted to give myself the best chance I could at doing it (backflip). It’s so easy to back down from that stuff and if you focus on the fact you fell, it’s a scary trick. It’s still scary, when you can do it, so I was just focusing on letting myself do it because I know I can.
“It gets so intense, the last few months building up to the Olympics, especially with Covid when we didn’t have any competitions but having that team support throughout British Cycling has kept us going the whole time.”
One of Charlotte’s neighbours when she lived in Chorlton as a child said they would always see her performing tricks in the street with her scooter.
“Our sons Isaac and Otis and all their friends used to always be outside skating,” Nick Jordan told the M.E.N.
“Charlotte was very committed and dedicated even at that age, almost obsessively practicing her tricks and riding down the street.
“In retrospect, we should have realised she would probably end up at the Olympics due to her dedication!”
(Image: Nick Jordan)
Nick said he was always impressed with Charlotte’s talent, even as a young teenager.
“Some of the stuff she could do with the scooter was so impressive – the bunny hops on the spot where she’d just balance on the back wheel,” he added.
“It’s amazing to see what she could do.
“She was always up and down the street doing tricks, she used to always build ramps with her dad as well.
“It was always great seeing them out on the street and we always encouraged them to get out there and enjoying the fresh air.”
Greater Manchester has played a significant role in cycling history and has also been instrumental in the success of many of this year’s Olympic heroes.
Bethany Shriever, from Leytonstone, dominated the National BMX Series in Manchester in March 2020 without ever dropping a lap.
While Kye Whyte, from Peckham, won his first World Cup race at the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in Manchester back in April 2019.
Kye Whyte and Bethany Shriever winning gold and silver in the mens and Womens BMX races at Tokyo 2020
(Image: Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)
In 2007, a 306 metre-long track specifically designed for BMX racing was built at Platt Fields park in Fallowfield.
The 10m-wide track, complete with jumps and banked corners, has been regularly used as a training facility by British BMX champions ever since.
The track is regularly used by the Manchester BMX Club, which began in 2008 as a way to develop cycling talent in both children and adults.
“To have four athletes and four medals is just incredible,” club committee member Lee Simpson says.
“Kye came up from a tough upbringing in Peckham, graduated through the BMX and the National series as an apprentice to get where he is today.
“Beth had her funding cut so that wasn’t available for her so for the last two and a half years she’s had to do her own thing around funding.
“We all hope now that this will result in more organisations putting funding into BMX at a grassroots level and give opportunities to riders who want to do well.”
Along with more funding support, Lee says the Olympic success will see more people become interested in the sport and take it seriously.
Great Britain’s Kye Whyte during the Cycling BMX Racing semi finals
Lee’s own son Gabe now competes in the sport and was recently named National Champion at the British 4X Series competition.
“BMX is an adrenaline sport and it’s amazing that it isn’t publicised as much as other sports,” Lee explains.
“BMX was big in the 80s but then it kind of got forgotten about by the general public.
“We were fearful that because BMX was airing at 2am with no spectators, we’d get no exposure but seeing what the guys have done has really put us back on the map.
“It’s bringing it to the forefront – I was in a restaurant last night and the table next to us was talking about BMX so you know it has already touched the hearts and the minds of people.
“Hopefully this will be the catalyst that gives BMX the exposure it deserves.”
The Manchester BMX Club holds regular sessions for young children and Lee expects the popularity to only increase due to Manchester’s positioning with the sport.
“We can see youngsters coming through and it’s brilliant to see,” he explains.
“We’re fortunate to be in Manchester and have the facilities that we do.
(Image: Manchester BMX)
There was a fear that if we didn’t do well at the Olympic games then that could disappear.
“All the funding is aimed towards track cycling but we all believe the success has only gone and cemented the future of the indoor training facilities in Manchester which are probably some of the very best in the world.”
Another track facility used by Team GB athletes is the Graystone Action Sports centre in Salford.
Rob Sidlow, 25, has been riding BMX for the last 13 years after getting into the sport at the age of 12. He regularly trains and coaches at the Salford sports centre.
He came to know Olympian Charlotte through a local skatepark in Manchester and says he was part of a group of people who convinced her to get into BMX.
“There were a few of us that used to hang out at a skatepark and it was us that actually convinced her to get a bike in the first place,” Rob says.
“She was a sponsored scooter rider at the time and said she could backflip a scooter so we made her try and do it on a bike.
“We planted that seed and to watch her grow and develop and get taken in by British Cycling and do as well as she has is just crazy to see.”
(Image: Instagram: @rob.sidlow)
Speaking about Charlotte’s incredible 360 backflip – a first for women in the Olympics – Rob said it was so inspirational to see.
“It’s absolutely mental,” he says.
“I’ve had a go at doing the 360 myself and I’ve never been able to get it down like Charlotte did. She has beaten us all to it!”
Two years ago, Rob became a BMX coach and now teaches classes at the Salford sports centre.
He said the discipline and mental strength needed to make a success in the sport is something that not many people can harness.
“The things you’re trying to do aren’t always necessarily the most difficult but convincing yourself to do it in the moment when your body is telling you not to is actually where the success lies,” he explains.
“Many people can’t motivate themselves to try something that could put themselves in danger – especially as they get older.
“With BMX, it’s 60 pc willingness to try and the rest is just about the time and effort.
Charlotte during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
“It’s a head game. Some of the more technical maneuvers can really get in your head and a lot of it is about combatting those personal battles in your mind.”
Charlotte has previously spoken about having to work 40-hour shifts at restaurants in Chorlton and Bury to support her BMX career goals, and it’s something that Rob says is pretty common for those trying to make leaps in the sport.
“I know of athletes who have had to set up fundraisers and work crazy jobs just to support themselves,” he explains.
“The sport has been around for ages and all of the riders have had to get to where they are based on their own merits and determination.
“Only a few of them have been able to make it because of being endorsed by companies.
“I feel like these Olympics will show the sport in a new light and hopefully bring in a new wave for BMX where funding for coaching and parks is more accessible.”
And speaking about team GB’s success, Rob says he is thrilled to bits to see the sport take centre stage on the podium stage.
“We’ve had this sport that’s been an underground and niche thing for years and to see it on mainstream media all across the world is really nice to see,” he adds.
The National Cycling Centre in Manchester has become a hub for British cyclists
(Image: Manchester Evening News)
“The sport is definitely on the up and we see a lot more kids wanting to get into it.”
Manchester’s Velodrome is another venue that has become synonymous with British cycling history since opening in 1994.
A ‘proud staple’ of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the centre serves as the headquarters for British Cycling and Great Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic riders.
Just last week, Manchester Council approved plans to spend £26m on repairing and upgrading the Velodrome after years of extensive use.
Now forming part of the National Cycling Centre, the Velodrome sits next door to the National Indoor BMX Centre which opened in 2011.
It’s where BMX heroes and Olympians Shanaze Reade and Liam Phillips have spent time training.
Shanaze Reade at the Team GB BMX Training Camp at the National Indoor BMX Centre in 2012
(Image: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Bob Barber served as the cycling manager for the Velodrome for seven years before retiring five years ago.
He is also a World and European Masters Track Champion and has previously worked as a Competition Director for British Cycling.
He was one of the key figures to help get the BMX centre approved and built ten years ago.
The centre is the second largest purpose-built BMX stadium in the world and the only permanent indoor track in the UK.
“It was created specifically to win Olympic medals,” Bob explains.
“Historically, BMX is historically an outdoor sport and Manchester brought it indoors so they could have the same conditions that very successful track squads.
“There are no elements – whether it’s humidity or whatever – that cannot be controlled and that’s such a big advantage to have.”
(Image: Manchester Evening News)
Bob says he expects – and hopes – that there will now be a ‘goldrush’ of attention towards BMX and cycling similar to what was seen
He explains that people from the age of five can start learning BMX, which makes it an incredibly accessible sport.
“You could be a national champion at the age of five if you put your mind to it,” he says.
“BMX has a much younger progression pathway for those who want to do it.
“I hope the British public and the youngsters will wake up to the fact that BMX exists and it can be taken seriously.
“I’m hoping it will take hold and happen not only to the BMX Centre in Manchester but to all the BMX clubs across the country too.”
He believes the recent Olympics success has been possible thanks to a ‘change in shift’ at the top of the British Cycling coaching structure.
“When Stephen Park joined British Cycling as a performance director in 2017, he was an Olympic sailor and people were wondering what on earth someone from sailing could know about winning medals in cycling.
“But clearly there’s been an influence with his strategy because it’s working well.
“He’s brought something from his previous sport to cycling and it’s clearly working because we’ve got medals in mountain biking and BMX for the first time ever.”
And as for the future? Bob is insistent that places like the Velodrome and Indoor BMX Centre will play a vital role in molding the BMX stars of tomorrow.
“I’ve been a track cyclist for 54 years now and what I’ve realised is BMX is a sprint discipline,” he explains.
“There can be two-way traffic and with the BMX track and the Velodrome right next to each other, there’s a lot of opportunity for cross-fertilisation.
“Many track and BMX athletes will be on the same weights programmes and people can come through the door at the National Cycling Centre and now choose whether they go left or right.
“We’re now BMX and mountain bike champions.
“There’s more inspiration than ever to ride freestyle and BMX and it’s just such a great position to be in.”
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