Team GB – Finals Day

All the build up, all the speculation, anticipation and hype is done and dusted. The Olympics have come and gone and it seems to have passed very quickly. I feel priveldged to have been there in person to witness the biggest day for UK BMX. Clark and Kent’s masterpiece of a track didn’t even look real, it was that perfect. When I started racing in ’85 I could never have expected to have been sitting in a packed out grandstand with the likes of David Beckham, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, the Prime Minisiter and thousands of new BMX fans many who were watching BMX live for the first time. Our sport has come a long long way especially over the last decade. Finally our Elite athlete’s are getting the recognition they deserve for their efforts and dedication.

The sun was shinning, the perfect scene was set to showcase our sport to the masses and there was definitely a nervous buzz around the venue as people were discussing who they thought would take the podium spots that day. In 90 minutes time the new champions would be crowned. I have to admit I felt more nervous for Shanaze’s first moto than when I race a big event myself, I wanted her to win that badly and silence the critics and doubters. Liam had performed so well in the quarters and was a genuine medal hope for Team GB and he was also just 3 laps from the big show. There was a definiate sense of expectation and optimism in the air that we could take two medals that afternoon.

Both our riders got off to a great start. Shanaze rode a solid second behind Caroline Bucchanan who had set the fastest time in seeding. I’m sure a relief as she crossed the line to get a good lap under her belt. In the other semi Marianna Pajon put in a perfect lap, catching every back side smoothly, looking very comfortable. Second lap and Shanze put down a convincing win, strong first straight and look really good from wire to wire. Marianna looked to be getting into her groove too with another perfect lap. At this point Buchannan, Reade and Pajon were looking consistent. Shanaze looked focussed but relaxed as she waved to the crowd after a confident second round. Another second for Shanaze this time from the inside in round 3 and she was comfortably through, looking very good for a medal. Caroline took another win as did Pajon who was starting to look like an equal favourite with clean consistent laps.. Walker had battled with Smulders in the semi’s and both had made it through but she had got off to a shaky start. Disappointment for Alise Post who I’d predicted for a podium going into the event. After crashing coming out of the London underground second moto she was under pressure in the last round and went down again on the last straight. Needless to say she was gutted and emotional. Going into the final I’d have bet my house on Shanaze, Buccanan and Pajon rounding out the medals in any order, so far they’d been the favourites on the day’s performances.

Meanwhile in the mens semi’s the stadium roared as Liam Phillips name was announced to the crowd. After a solid performance on day 1 of the games, the expectancy of Liam making the main event was very high. With the crowd behind him he put down the power from the gate just being edged out by Van Der Biezen from the inside. Connor was smahed in the first turn by Calyron and took down the pack. Fields managed to get back on his bike for a 4th. The second rack was loaded with names, this could have been the final. Willers went down hard on the third straight and Maris took a 4th place after exiting the track as willers crashed, whilst Willoughby took it to the wire. Connor Fields redeemed himself second round beating Van Der Biezen who was looking comfortable from the inside. Liam rode out a 3rd virtually putting himself into the main. Connor passed Raymon in the rythmn, showing great track speed. In the other semi, Willers’ first round crash looked to have ended his games. Van Gent had stepped upto the plate and lead the lap from the gate before Sam passed him down the 3rd straight beating Joris and Maris who finished 4th. After the final round of action Liam had done everything he needed to keep his Olympic dream on track, by now the crowd were buzzing and we were expecting a medal was on the cards.. Meanwhile in the other semi a couple of big names were out. Willers never recovered from his first round crash and Joris Daudet wasn’t going to be in the main. Instead Van Gent had stepped upto the plate and put his name in the mix and Carlos Oquendo who was the last man out of the quarters was the last man into the main..BMX racing is never cut and dry, so the top names on paper won’t always be in the big show. The track and the occasion and the pressure had definitely got to some of the main contenders in both classes.

As the ladies lined up for the final, there was nervous tension in the air. Shanaze had chosen lane 1, showing confidence in her semi final perfomances. The gate dropped but Pajon had shown first with Walker right there. Shanaze was a tad late from the gate and the pack had come across, Pajon did exactly what she’d done all day and took a wire to wire perfect lap. Walker had redeemed herself from her semi’s and took silver and one of the rank outsider’s Laura Smulders had her greatest moment in BMX taking the bronze. Buchannan and Shanaze were devastated, clearly on the days earlier performances faster than Walker and Smulders and favourite’s for medals.

I really feel for Shanaze while writing this as there was so much pressure and expectation on her shoulders. We have to appreciate how hard it must be being in that position at that time. In hindsight people can always say why didn’t she pick lane 4 or 5 but at least she had the guts to go for lane 1 and put it all on the line. Pajon was extatic was comfortable on the track and never put a wheel out of line all week, congratulations for handling the pressure and taking the gold.

Our hopes now on Liam as everyone looked to the 8 metre hill. Awesome roar as his name was read out to the crowd, Connor was inside in lane 1 and had been hard to beat from that position. Maris was now in lane 3, people around me talking in the stands were writing Maris Strombergs off saying he’s not been able to put it together and didn’t look like he’d repeat Beijing. I disagreed saying he only had to win one lap, and when it counts that he knows how to trip the switch, he’s a machine!

The gate dropped, Maris laid down the ponnies from lane 3, Willoughby was right there, Connor had missed the gate. Liam got an amazing start and was right in the action, he was equal down the first straight from the middle outside, coming out of turn he was 3rd all over Sam when he touched his wheel going up the lip of the double, unclipping he saved the situation but couldn’t get clipped in through the S bend and went down.. Maris and Sam pulled away, Strombergs, cut over on the third straight defending his line and taking it smoothly to the wire, Sam was the bridesmaid in second and Oquendo had avoided all the carnage working through to take the bronze. Connor couldn’t get back in the mix and then went down in the last turn. A truely amazing final with an unlucky outcome for Liam who had was awesome all week and was good for bronze or silver before he clipped out. He definitely did the UK fans proud with his performance. Maris silenced the doubters, a true champion, handling the pressure when it counts most a “machine” in every sense of the word, massive respect for the champion!

Huge dissapointment for Team GB not taking a medal, heart felt moments for Shanaze and Liam in there quests for glory, as both riders had looked so good. But for the sport the home Olympics was the greatest advert we could hope for. Finally recognition for these athlete’s on a mainstream level, our sport can be now taken more seriously and this has to be the catalyst for increased interest and rider participation all over the country. London 2012 will hopefully be the start of a new era for BMX in the UK and a legacy that can be built on for all sport in this country.


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