When it comes to BMX, Asia can still be considered an emerging country. A paradox for a discipline which made its debut at the Olympics in Beijing, in 2008. But the continent could soon take off, inspired by the performances of Yoshitaku Nagasako, a trainee at the World Cycling Centre (WCC) and a rising BMX star in Japan.
This season, Yoshi is seventh in the UCI world rankings. He registered the best results for an Asian athlete: 14th and 17th in the time trial at two rounds of the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup, and above all 7th in the World Championships in Auckland (New Zealand). â€śIf he hadnâ€™t fallen, he would have been on the podium,â€ť says his still regretful coach at the WCC Thomas Allier.
Yoshi himself is confident: â€śI am progressing well. My best result last year was 114th in the time trial â€“ although I had a broken wrist...â€ť
In 2016, he would like to win an Olympic medal. â€śI am sure I can,â€ť he says. â€śBetween now and Rio, I will have two more years of training and experience, if possible with the World Cycling Centre.â€ť
Meetings with 90 sponsors
Installed at the WCC since 2012, Yoshi is coached by Allier, his childhood hero. â€śI asked him for an autograph at the World Championships in Valkenswaard in the Netherlands. I was 11 at the time. Thomas was my hero and BMX my passion.â€ť
At that time, he was a regular on the track in Kasaoka, in Okayama Prefecture, in the south of Japan. It was a fortunate coincidence that the track was built opposite the family farm, where his parents cultivated roses. Without his country upbringing, he may never have learned to align jumps and falls at the tender age of three. But he did. And he got a taste for it: â€śWithout BMX I am nothing.â€ť
He is hard on himself. In reality, Yoshi is more than just an athlete: he is a tireless entrepreneur who left school at 16 and alone had to find a solution that would enable him to devote himself to his sport. He contacted 200 company heads and met with 90 of them.
â€śI was in a very difficult cycle,â€ť he says. â€śI trained from 8am until midday and from 2pm until 4pm. Then I worked in a restaurant from 5pm until 10pm, six days a week. After 10pm, I worked to find sponsors. Letâ€™s say that I wasnâ€™t training in optimal conditions. Sport was my priority, my reason for being, but without money I couldnâ€™t continue.â€ť
At a young age, Yoshi learned to produce texts, photos and videos to explain his activity, then get interviews in the media, this time with the help of a management company.
â€śHe wants everything to be perfectâ€ť
Once he had enough money aside, Yoshi contacted the WCC and discovered the sporting environment he had always dreamed of: â€śMy road to the Olympic Games is through the Centre,â€ť he insists.
According to Allier, his athlete is at the same time ambitious and down to earth: â€śGiven his personal background, Yoshi is tough. He is very demanding in training and wants everything to be perfect. He knows where he is coming from, he knows the significance of success, but also of difficulty, and he knows where he is going.â€ť
His character and reputation of a self made man, now with the support of the WCC, incites the admiration of youngsters in his own country. Back home, BMX is making ground with competitions for running bikes (small bikes without pedals) that draw some 2000 participants from the age of two.
Twelfth nation in the UCI Rankings (thanks to Yoshi), Japan could improve that score in the years to come. At the same time, other Asian countries could also benefit from this spirit of competition, such as China, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore all among the 39 nations ranked by the UCI.
Each time Yoshi returns home, the Kasaoka track appears to be busier. â€śThe kids are happy to see me and I am happy to see them too. There are new faces each time. I donâ€™t know them all but they say they follow me on Facebook. I end up getting to know some of them and I see them growing each time I return to Japan. They want to be like me one day. Thatâ€™s a good sign for the future of BMX in our country.â€ť