Among the 48 BMX Racing athletes qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games are five who have been training this year at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland.
It will be a first for Sae Hatakeyama, of Japan, as well as for Switzerland’s Zoé Claessens and Simon Marquart. Meanwhile the Netherlands’ Niek Kimmann and Japan’s Yoshitaku (Yoshi) Nagasako will be competing in their second Olympic Games after Rio 2016 (Yoshi reached the ¼ finals and Niek made it through all the rounds to the final 8, eventually finishing 7th).
Their final preparations have been in Papendal (the Netherlands) where the first straight of the BMX track is a replica of that they will race on in Tokyo. Their UCI WCC coach Liam Phillips (GBR), himself BMX 2013 UCI World Champion, competed in the last three Olympic Games so is encouraging his athletes to make the most of their next challenge: “They are young and will have future opportunities and I wish to use this to reassure them that this is not the final stop of their journey… it’s simply a fantastic opportunity to perform on a global scale. I want them to enjoy their experience, smile and have fun. No different to any other race!”
We hear from three of the UCI WCC trainees before they leave for Tokyo and its Ariake Urban Sports Park.
Zoé Claessens (SUI)
Still just 20 years old, Zoé Claessens already competed on the Olympic stage at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 2018, where she claimed silver in the mixed team event (winning the women’s event in the process).
Crowned Elite European Champion in Zolder (Belgium) at the beginning of this month, two years after claiming the Junior European title, she is simply continuing a way of life that she has known since she was a toddler.
“My father is the one who founded the club at Echichens, which was one of the first clubs in Switzerland. I’ve got two brothers who took up BMX and I followed them. I always did BMX when I was young. At the beginning I wasn’t that competitive… then after when I was around 16 years old, I started to get some good results and that gave me the motivation to keep it up and go all-in.”
In Tokyo she hopes to remain relaxed going into the racing: “I aim to perform as if it was a regular race because it will be the same athletes. It might be a different environment but the same people.”
Yoshitaku Nagasako (JPN)
Yoshi has been riding BMX for the best part of 20 years, and has been a regular UCI WCC athlete since first arriving to train in Aigle in 2012. He first got to know his current coach, Liam Phillips, as an athlete, and was in the UCI World Championships final when his future coach won the rainbow jersey: “Some of the good memories are that I shared some podiums with Liam in the European Cup and some UCI World Cup finals.”
The Japanese Champion hopes his high profile in Japan and the Asian continent can help further develop BMX Racing: “BMX Racing in Japan is very small and even in the whole of Asia. But I believe they can do what the Europeans do. So I hope I can be one of the guys who can show what Asians can do,” says the 27-year-old as he embarks on his second summer Olympic Games.
Sae Hatakeyama (JPN)
Like her training partners, Sae was born into BMX.
“My dad was looking for a sport we could do as a family. One day, he was reading a magazine and he found the BMX track. At the time I was still a baby so I started after them. I did my first BMX race at four years old so I don’t remember!”
Qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics was a relief as much as anything for Sae after she crashed in January 2020 and was unable to compete in the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup rounds in Australia that year: “I was just waiting, watching the live and waiting to see how it went so I was a bit stressed!.”
With her Olympic ticket in pocket, the 22-year-old is determined to make the most of it: “Not that many people can experience the Olympics so I just want to have fun and do my best. I believe that if I give a 100% performance, the result will come.”
Watch the full interviews with the UCI World Cycling Centre BMX athletes on the UCI YouTube channel here.