Shanaze Reade has one hand on BMX gold

British Olympic hope puts track ambitions aside

If Shanaze Reade had her way, then going for two gold medals in Beijing would be more desirable than aiming for the one she is being widely predicted to win in the women's BMX competition.

Reade, who fell in love with BMX as a 10 year old after being taken to a local track by her uncle, is one of a rare breed of athletes who can excel in two different disciplines, namely BMX and track cycling.

Despite owning two world titles from each in the past two years, Reade's Olympic track ambitions are currently being put on hold. There are only three women's events in Olympic track, and the team sprint, in which Reade is a two-time world champion with Victoria Pendleton, is not one of them.

Of the many British cyclists expected to stand on the podium in Beijing this summer, Reade - thanks to her sheer dominance of her BMX rivals - is topping everyone's list. And nothing less than gold is expected.

"If I was going to put my mortgage on anyone winning the gold medal, it would be Shanaze," said Scottish track cycling king Chris Hoy, who will be aiming for an ambitious three golds in Beijing.

Like Reade, Hoy came to track cycling through BMX. But unlike the 19-year-old from Crewe, Hoy has never had the pleasure, or peculiarity, of competing and winning titles in both events at the same time. Ironically for Hoy, BMX is making its Olympic debut this year after replacing track cycling's kilometre event - in which the Scot is the reigning Olympic champion.

It is perfect timing for Reade, who - while continuing her progress in track - aims to continue competing in BMX at least until the London Olympics in 2012. Rich with eight European junior titles, Reade's BMX talents went global when she won a world under-18 crown at the age of 15.

Earlier this year in China, she defended her maiden senior world title from 2007 with almost consummate ease. After an explosive start from the ramp, Reade negotiated some of the first jumps before leaving her rivals trailing nearly 15 bike lengths behind.

Her coach, Grant White, said that performance was a "huge psychological blow" to her opponents", adding: "She didn't pedal the last straight and still had a second's lead."

Just how much either of Reade's disciplines benefits the other is difficult to measure. But one thing is sure. The fast and powerful start she gives Pendleton in the two-woman team sprint, coupled with several weight training sessions per week, will have undoubtedly sharpened her existing edge in BMX.

It may be that the only way to beat Reade is to get in front of her from the word go. But she is unlikely to let that happen.

"The start is the critical area for me. It's vital because that is what I do - I go from the start and win my races from there," she said. "Other riders though who don't have a good a start will be very good technically which will help them go from sixth to second."

In Beijing, all eyes will be on the Olympic newcomer of BMX. And Reade stands out as the most likely athlete to convince the skeptics that it has its place on the programme.

"I did track cycling to prove that BMX cyclists weren't just people on kids bikes and to show that we are athletes," she said. "I think I have done that by setting world records on the track and winning two gold in two years."

© AFP 2008

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