I’m gutted, says SA’s BMX star

2008-08-22 00:00

So near yet so far — that was the story that unfolded for South African Sifiso Nhlapo in making, then crashing out of, yesterday’s first-ever Olympic BMX final at the Laoshan Bicycle Venue on the west of Beijing city.

“Just one more race — anything can happen,” said the 21-year-old as he awaited the final having come through the three runs of the semi-final unscathed where so many others had crashed out on at least one run.

The first run of the semi-final saw Americans Mike Day and Donny Robinson out in front for the whole course, with Nhlapo directly behind. A crash on the first corner separated the third American, Kyle Bennett, and three others including leading contender Arturs Matison of Latvia, who finished sixth, putting him under pressure for the next runs. Nhlapo started the second round in fifth, but came through to repeat his third position, accumulating six points from two runs, with Day once again in first, and Robinson having to settle for third.

“That’s the way he rides. He builds on each outing, getting stronger and stronger: this is the one,” said team coach Tony Harding, confident Nhlapo could medal.

Neck and neck into the first corner of the final, Nhlapo came out unscathed in the fifth, following world champion Stromberg, Day, Robinson and Australian Jared Graves. Jumping over the women’s track into the second corner, Nhlapo tried to cut inside the Australian, but snagged his back wheel, bringing them both down and leaving the South African prone on the corner.

Stromberg went on to add the Olympic title to his world title, with Americans Day and Robinson filling the other podium positions. Nhlapo was taken for medical treatment.

“Physically he’s OK, just a few scrapes and bruises, but he’s very emotional and distraught over the race. This has been four years for this kid. It’s what he lives for, It’s his life, just him and his bike,” said Harding. “He’s a future champion and I would like to think a future Olympic champion.”

Eventually emerging from the team room, Nhlapo gingerly walked to the testing station escorted by his support team.

“I’m gutted, this was the Olympic finals. I’ve had all the support, I’m just so disappointed,” said Nhlapo, who was visibly drained.

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