Nhlapo: I'm gutted

2008-08-22 11:51

Beijing - It was fast, spectacular and had plenty of thrills and spills for South Africa's Sifiso Nhlapo on Friday.

And despite some big medal favourites failing to live up to expectations, the historic first BMX competition of the Games appeared to pass the Olympic test.

Nhlapo, 21, was unfortunate to be hit on the head by the wheel of a rider and crashed out in the curve after the biggest jump of the BMX track in Friday's medal race.

World champion Maris Stromberg of Latvia won the gold medal in front of a packed, cheering stadium. American Mike Day took silver and his teammate Donny Robinson won the bronze.

Shortly before the final Nhlapo said: "Just one more race and anything can happen.

Nhlapo directly behind

"I'm just focusing on staying alive, having fun and just being smart. The race isn't won until the last race, so I'm just trying to progress each lap and this is exactly what I needed (going into the final)."

The first run of one of the semi-finals saw Day and Donny Robinson out in front with Nhlapo directly behind.

A crash on the first corner separated the third American, Kyle Bennett, and three others.

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. Nhlapo and French

SA team coach Tony Harding said: "That's the way he rides - he builds on each outing, getting stronger and stronger."

'Few scrapes and bruises'

Nhlapo and one of the other finalists, France's Damien Godet, failed to finish the final race and Nhlapo was taken for medical treatment.

Harding said: "Physically he's okay...just a few scrapes and bruises. He is, however, 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 who was also struggling to come to terms with the disappointment of what he was sure was going to have a medal outcome.

"He' s a future champion and I would like to think a future Olympic champion. At 21, he's going to be here for London and even 2016. He is world class."

'So disappointed'

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

Nhlapo said: "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, and a shadow of the enthusiastic confident finalist of earlier.

France's Anne-Caroline Chausson won the gold medal in the women's event. Chausson's teammate Laetitia le Corguille won the silver and American Jill Kintner took the bronze.