Meet the Five Athletes Named to the U.S. Olympic BMX Racing Team



Meet the five athletes…

By Lisa Costantini | June 30, 2021, 12:15 p.m. (ET)

Willoughby, 30, started riding BMX at the age of 6 and is one of the most successful women in racing. In 2012, she finished 12th at her first Games. Four years later, she leaves with a silver medal.

Tokyo will mark her third Olympic Games, but for her, it’s more than a medal.

“The journey is about everything we do — here and now — in preparation,” the Saint Cloud, Minnesota native said on Zoom. “I know I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been.”
The reigning world champion attributes this to not having to travel and compete to make the team. Because team selection was based on points, and “since the qualifying period lasted several years,” Willougby said, “four of us were pretty ready with our results. It resulted in an environment healthy for all of us to prepare for these Olympics and focus on the job at hand.

The reigning gold medalist who finished seventh in London before stepping onto the podium in Rio thought he had seen it all in his 11 years of professional driving. But then 2020 came.

“Going to the Olympics last year, I thought I had been a pro for 11 years. I’ve been to a few Olympics. I did well. I had it bad. I’ve got so much experience that there’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t seen,’ he thought. “And then there was a global pandemic and the first-ever postponement in Olympics history.”

But that’s part of being an elite athlete, the 28-year-old said from his home in Las Vegas: “Facing whatever is thrown at you.”

After the series halted in Italy – which Fields opted to skip – he mathematically knew he had clinched his spot.

This Olympic cycle, he said, “it was nice to prepare specifically for the Games, as opposed to a qualifying event.” In 2012 his concentration was coming back from an injury and in 2016 he put all his energy into testing.

Sharrah, 29, of Tucson, Ariz., competed alongside Fields at the 2016 Rio Olympics but narrowly missed the final, finishing ninth overall. That same year, he won the overall world cup title and won world championship gold in 2017.

Now set to compete in her second Games, Sharrah said the time off was a good break for her mind and body.

“A lot of us [riders], honestly, don’t run healthy. We’re probably running at 85-90% – sometimes less than that,” he said on the Zoom call.

He also used the break to spend more time with his son, Graysen, who turns 3 in July.

“We took off to a few places I hadn’t seen around Arizona,” he said. “It was like, I live here, why don’t you go see him?” It was great doing this as a family and seeing my son grow up.

Growing up with a professional BMX racer as a father, Stancil was on a bike at age four. At six, she had won her first national title and her first world title at nine. At the end of 2019, she finished second in the World Cup Series standings and won USA Cycling Elite and Pro of the Year National Champion titles.

After landing on her first Olympic team, Stancil, 26, left her hometown of Lake Villa, Ill., to do what she called her “final preparation” at the Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista, in California.

“Payton and I are both from different areas than the other three athletes – not the West Coast.” Because of that, she said, and not having access to nearby supercross hills, the two teammates had a similar plan to head west before Tokyo to get time on the track for ” ride with other girls who go to the Games”.

Two days after turning 19, the Pottstown, Pennsylvania native clinched the final spot on the BMX team with her runner-up finish at the UCI World Cup in Bogota, Colombia. As the team was chosen on the basis of a point system, her four teammates from Tokyo were able to secure their places without having to participate in a qualifier. Ridenour, however, had to travel to Colombia and Italy to win the title of first Olympian.
On a Zoom call afterwards, the reigning UCI Pump Track world champion said she didn’t think she “would ever be thrilled” about the opportunity to go to Tokyo.
After racing her first year as a junior in 2019, the pro said, “The transition from junior to elite was a bit difficult because the level of racing is off the charts,” but until she got on that plane for Japan, she will continue to “try to learn the ropes a bit more.

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