By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Do not expect three-time world champion, Hannah Roberts, to play it safe in pursuit of a gold medal when BMX freestyle makes its Olympic debut this summer.
The American trailblazer, 19, has been pushing the envelope since she first climbed on a BMX as an eight-year-old. She was the first woman to land a 360 tailwhip — a complex airborne stunt in which only the rider’s hands stay in contact with the bike as it rotates beneath them.
After recently winning her third-world title in Montpellier to confirm her favorite tag for Tokyo, she says she is cooking up something new for her tilt at Olympic gold.
“I have a few big flip whips and a front flip I want to do at the Olympics if I can figure out where to do them,” Roberts said in a recent interview with Forbes.
Michigan-based Roberts will be the overwhelming favorite to take the title if added to the cycling program to join BMX racing, which debuted in Beijing in 2008.
BMX racing, in which Colombia’s Mariana Pajon will be seeking a third successive Olympic gold, is an adrenaline-fuelled blast down a ramp and then around a course full of jumps, with the winner the first rider to cross the line.
Freestyle is limited only by a rider’s imagination, with competitors given 60 seconds to create gravity-defying flips and spins over a range of obstacles, including spines, walls, and ramps. Marks are awarded on criteria such as difficulty, originality, execution, height, and creativity.
“You’re going to need that ‘wow factor,” Britain’s Charlotte Worthington, who took the bronze medal in Montpellier, said of what it will take to make the podium in Tokyo. Nine male and nine female riders will compete at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, hosting the skateboarding events.