The sudden death on Sunday of Kyle Bennett, the triple UCI BMX World Champion, has shocked the cycling world, which today recalls the extent to which the American athlete marked the history of his discipline.
âGreat team-mate and legend in this sport. Still hard to believe this...â is how Olympic Champion MÄris Å trombergs reacted to the news.
Bennett was at the peak of his career when BMX underwent radical changes. Thus, he turned professional in 1997, one year after UCI had fully integrated BMX into its disciplines. Then he became a world-record holder, winning convincingly in 2002 (in Paulinia, Brazil), in 2003 (in Perth, Australia) and in 2007 (in Victoria, Canada). To date, this record of rainbow jerseys in the Menâs Elite event remains unbroken.
In 2008, when BMX became part of the programme of the Olympic Games, Bennett was the first American athlete to qualify. However, he failed in the semi-final and finishedÂ in 11th place.
Connor Fields, his fellow countryman, thirteen years his younger, explained that Bennett was once his hero: âHe inspired my generation of BMXers.â
âHe always had time for the kids,â added Fields. From his first victory onwards, Bennett believed that training centres should be built in the United States, and with his quiet and shy nature shared his passion with the younger cyclists.
His superb technical mastery and his smooth style also contributed a lot to the creation of his legend, justifying his nickname âButterâ.
At 33, Bennett was still very active, in spite of injuries and health problems which had stopped him from taking part again in the Olympic Games.
On hearing of his death, in a road accident near Conroe, Texas â his home town â hundreds of fans and friends gathered at the Armadillo BMX Park.
USA Cycling Chief Executive Officer Steve Johnson paid him a moving tribute: âKyle was a pioneer in Olympic BMX and an inspiration to those of us that knew him. â
As of Monday, the UCI BMX Commission has decided to retire number 88, his race number, from the list of available numbers. It will remain forever the number of a cycling figure who shared his dream and passion for his sport throughout his life.