Youth Olympic Games gold medallist in 2018, ranked 2nd Elite Woman in the world this year, and a regular on international podiums, Germany’s Lara Lessmann is one of THE names of BMX Freestyle Park. The 19-year-old was recently invited to give a demonstration of her sport at the official inauguration of the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) BMX Freestyle Park in Aigle, Switzerland.We caught up with the high-flying rider who nevertheless has her feet firmly on the ground and seems almost surprised that only UCI World Champion Hannah Roberts (USA) is above her in the UCI World Rankings.
“I don’t really think about that or realise until I get invited to events like this!” says Lara Lessmann, who has been riding over half her life. In 2009 she was just the little sister down at the local skatepark where everyone messed about together on skateboards, inline roller blades and bikes. It was fun, it was social, and it was male-dominated. “I went with my big brother and I always rode with boys because there were not many girls. Then when I was about 12 my local skatepark organised a big German competition and I won. Yeah, I beat the boys."
“Then I started winning other German competitions and when I was 15, I rode in a FISE competition in Croatia and I won there too.”. It was obvious that the “little sister” had something special and at 17 years of age she moved to Berlin to study in a sports school. “It was hard because there was no BMX, only cycling, and it was hard to get respect.”
But with her international results came the respect she deserved and a whirlwind life of training, travel and competition.
Training: a mixture of repetition and adrenaline
When at home, she divides her training between riding and, on bad weather days, the gym. One day a week is spent at a foam pit to try new tricks: “Every day you try to get better. Every day I’m scared. But if there is a day when you are really scared, if you aren’t ‘feeling it’ then you shouldn’t do it. I’m a safe and confident rider, so I will only do a trick if I know I will land it.”
New tricks are perfected on a small ramp, before moving to a bigger ramp, then an even bigger one: “Every day you do that same trick, over and over again, to be sure you get it 100%.”
Since graduating from school, Lara Lessmann has dedicated her life to her sport, which has meant overcoming her fear of flying to compete worldwide. As much as the competition itself, she is proud to demonstrate her sport to new audiences: “Everyone knows soccer, but BMX Freestyle is different. I love showing it to people in China, Japan, Argentina… they really like it!"
“The good thing about our sport is that everyone is different, and everyone has their own style. That’s what makes it so cool. It’s also hard because it is judged. In cycling, the fastest wins. It’s easy to pick the winner…”. With victory at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, a silver medal and two fourth places at the last three UCI Urban Cycling World Championships in Chengdu, China, the young athlete is already a seasoned international athlete. “But I still get very nervous. On the morning of a competition I can’t eat, I’m so nervous. But I think it’s a good sign to feel like that. Just before my run, when I’m on the top of the ramp, the feeling goes away, and the show starts!”
The show will continue at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games where BMX Freestyle will make its debut. Lara Lessmann’s qualification should be a mere formality and the young rider will make it her main goal for next year. The announcement that her sport would join the Olympics has attracted new athletes and raised the level of competition: “If you look at videos of the World Championships in 2017 and now, you see a big progression. Not just me, but with all the women.
“Yes, the Olympics will be my main goal next year, but I want to keep BMX fun and do other competitions too, like the X Games.". But for now, after non-stop travel and competition from April to November, she is looking forward to a bit of rest. She will spend time with her family – “I get homesick and really want to spend some time with them” -, work out next year’s schedule and relax.
“And try some new tricks,” she adds.