British BMX star Shanaze Reade brushed off a first run crash on Wednesday to qualify for the sport’s inaugural Olympic semi-finals.
After crashing on a bend early on the first run, Reade – the defending two-time world champion in bicycle motor cross -completed her second run with no problems. She will now take part in an eight-rider semi-final on Thursday.
“I don’t know why I crashed,” said the 19-year-old Reade, whose pride, more than anything else, seemed to be hurt.
“Mentally I was prepared, but then I did it (crashed) and I washed out. It’s just one of those things. It’s BMX,” the favourite for the Olympic title added.
Both qualifying runs for the men and women were effectively single-rider time trials, with the best times determining seedings for the quarter-finals (men) and semi-finals (women). The women’s two semi-final heats – composed of eight riders each – are held over three runs on Thursday, with the top four riders from each heat going through to the final later in the day. Qualification for the final is based on points accrued over three runs, with the least number of points counting with winners and high finishers being rewarded with low, as opposed, to high scores.
Reade’s semi-final line-up also features the Australian duo of Tanya Bailey and Nicole Callisto, as well as Frenchwoman Laetitia le Corguille.
Reade, who ranked second from the 16-strong starting field following a strong second run, said she would be less nervous once the real racing started in her heat.
“Never be afraid,” added Reade, a world champion in track cycling who will look to use her trademark lightning starts to stay out of trouble in the semis.
France’s former mountain bike downhill queen Anne-Caroline Chausson clocked the fastest time of the field from the two starting runs and will start as one of the big favourites in heat one. Chausson was the only other woman rider to crash, but she survived her setback late in her second run to finish.
“I’m okay, nothing serious,” said the Frenchwoman, who returned to her first love of BMX from mountain biking when it became an Olympic sport. “I’m super-motivated, as are all the girls here. It’s my last competitive race of my career, and it’s all I’ve been thinking about for two years.”
On BMX’s Olympic debut, nerves proved a factor in the noisy, heat-drenched stadium that was brought to life by a whacky announcer, rock music and plenty of thrills and spills.
“First off here, it’s getting used to the nerves – nerves, the fans and a packed stadium,” said American Jill Kintner, who ranked seventh after the seedings runs to join Reade’s group. “Everything is finally coming to fruition, there are so many people in the stands and athletes that are excited. What a great venue for people to see BMX for the first time.”
Olympic BMX Men: American Mike Day looks good for gold as BMX thrills Olympics
American bmx and gold medal favourite mike day.: american bmx and gold medal favourite mike day. Julian Finney/Getty Images
A nervous but thrilling first day of men’s Olympic BMX racing on Wednesday saw most of the big favourites for the gold survive the Laoshan track to qualify for the semi-finals.
But it was American professional Mike Day who came out tops from the 16 men who, after four heats of three runs, will go into Thursday’s semi-finals. Day, a 23-year-old from California, showed that you don’t have to be close to the ground on the low BMX bikes to make a difference.
At 1.91 metres (6ft 3in) tall, he was the only rider to win all three of his quarter-final runs, each one composed of an eight-man field, meaning he finished with a perfect three points. The only other riders to get close were Australian Jared Graves and current world champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia – both of whom won two of their three runs to finish on four and seven points respectively.
Strombergs said: “I just did my best. It’s a lot of work and I just try to get better and better. I don’t feel any pressure, I just enjoy my ride. I’ve been racing since I was five years old; that’s almost 16 years.”
After the entire men’s field had battled individually over two-run time trials in a bid to gain one of the coveted places on the inside of the track, the three-run heats gave a truer glimpse of what BMX is all about. And some of those who had made special efforts to claim an historic Olympic gold for their sport found out to their cost.
Among the big names to fall victim to the hidden hazards on the 370-metre track was Luke Madill of Australia, who had famously built a replica of the Olympic BMX track in a bid to boost his chances of a medal. Madill’s hopes came crashing down, quite literally, when he got sucked into a pile-up which took down France’s former two-time world champion Thomas Allier, who also did not qualify.
Argentina’s Ramiro Marino was also among the riders who tasted the dirt when he got caught out on the first tight bend. He was painfully thrown off his bike, which ended up going over the other side of the safety barrier. With a maximum of 20 points in his heat, he finished last of his eight-man field over the three runs and failed to qualify.
Experienced American Kyle Bennett, meanwhile, lived up to his nickname of “Butter”, although it was more for his slippery end-of-race crash than for his smooth riding. The three-time world champion was left hurting from the pile-up and came limping home in eighth place, given as a ‘did not finish’. But after picking up a second then a fourth place finish on his first two runs, his accumulated tally of 14 points allowed him to qualify for the semis.
It was later revealed he had dislocated his shoulder, but the 28-year-old’s team said he will start.
“Nothing is broken and he is planning on racing tomorrow,” said team spokesman Andy Lee. “Structurally, he’s fine to race.”
The cosmopolitan last 16 will now be composed of three Americans, two Australians, a New Zealander, a Colombian, two Latvians, two Dutchman, one Italian, Swiss, French and Argentine rider, and one South African. South African Sifiso Nhlapo lived up to the promise provided by a recent world championship bronze medal by tying for first place in heat two, on six points, with Latvian Arturs Matisons.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008