It has the thrills and painful spills – but for Britain BMXing is turning out to be a cruel sport. There was double heartbreak for Team GB last night as both its BMX riders failed to make the podium in the finals of what is a dangerous and compellingly fickle sport.
The Crewe-born rider Shanaze Reade, who famously crashed out of Beijing on the final bend after making a last ditch attempt to snatch gold, will again be pursued by Olympic demons as she limped to sixth place in the final women's race despite storming comfortably through the semis.
Her teammate Liam Phillips suffered a wipe-out: after a promising start flying down the eight-metre-drop ramp he slipped on his peddle, clipped another rider on the second bend, and bounced off the baking Stratford tarmac.
It was an inglorious end for a team who had high hopes of bringing another trophy to the Team GB cabinet. Both fell short at Beijing but over the past four years huge sums of money have been piled into British BMXing in the hopes that Reade and Phillips could bring back gold.
Neither athlete should be judged too harshly: BMX track racing is a frenetic sport that pits eight riders against each other down a 450-metre course filled with nine-foot jumps and steep embankments, and can prove a lottery. A single slip from a rider near the front of the pack can create a multi-bike pile up. The smallest of jump errors sends a rider hurtling over the handlebars. During her career, Reade – whose nan bought her first BMX when she was 10 to keep her out of trouble - has broken a knee, a foot, ribs, an elbow, her coccyx and a hand. Phillips nearly didn’t make it to the London Olympics after a crash earlier this year broke his collarbone.
After just the first four races today, five of the eight riders had been knocked out in a single collision and one Brazilian rider had to be carried away on a spinal board. Both Reade and Phillips managed to avoid the pile-ups and put in a series of fast rides to qualify for the final. But once there Reade was outclassed and Phillips was left sprawled on the track.
BMXing’s pace and carnage have made the sport one of the most popular at London 2012. Much like the beach volleyball at Horseguards parade, it has attracted an enthusiastic, noisy – occasionally drunken – and predominantly young crowd. In between the races a host of DJs and stunt bikers keep the spectators entertained.
Fans love it because BMXing is as much a spectacle as it is a sport. But it can be heartbreaking for the riders who put their bodies on the line.
Reade and Phillips can at least take solace from helping to make BMXing popular once more. Ten years ago there were only five tracks in London and the south east. Now every Olympic borough has a new club. BMXing is something poorer kids from inner city boroughs can do for relatively little expense and the BMX track in Stratford will be reconfigured to become a less challenging track that the public will be able to use.
But Reade, now 23, who grew up on a narrow red-bricked terrace house in Crewe, the daughter of an Irish teenage mother and an absent Jamaican father, was left heartbroken by today's result.
Speaking after the race last night she said she was struggling to come to terms with her loss.
“At the moment I'm pretty emotionless,” she said. “I do not have any emotion in me yet, but I am sure it will sink in. The Games is the biggest platform you can race at and you've just got to give it your best. I just tried to stay focused and do my absolute best, but today it just wasn't good enough.“