Many athletes who have been through the injuries and hard luck that Sarah Walker has during the last six years would have given the sport up years ago. But Walker is not wired that way.
She has had a tough run since winning silver at the London Olympics in 2012, but in 2018 she started looking like her old self again, winning her third Oceania BMX title, the elite women’s race at the New Zealand BMX Championships and standing on the podium at a World Cup event for the first time since.
At 30 years of age she still believes she can return to the top of the sport and has her sights firmly set on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“Just like every other year, 2018 had its ups and downs, but the highlight was definitely making the podium at the last World Cup in Argentina at the end of September. That was massive, 2015 was my last podium at elite level, that was the World Champs in Belgium. At World Cup level, my last podium was 2011,” Walker says.
“Obviously, in 2012 I won the Olympic medal, but three months before that I dislocated my shoulder and that sparked the beginning of a lot of injuries and set backs. I maintained this self-belief that I could still do it right through, which was awesome but really hard, it can be really challenging, especially when there are so many set backs.
“It was so important to maintain that belief that I was capable of still performing on the world stage. To make that World Cup podium last year meant so much, I knew it was right to believe in myself, but to have it shown was definitely worth it. That was really cool.”
She said the sport of BMX was so young, there was no real expectation of what age someone should retire at. The BMX gold medal winger in Beijing Olympics in 2008 was 31.
“Even if there was, just because something is normal, there’s an exception to every rule. If I still enjoy it and I still think I should go faster, why should I stop? I feel like I want to keep going, so I should.”
At present, Walker is in the middle of off-season training, gearing up for the first World Cup events of the year in England and Holland in April.
“We do have nationals and Oceania champs in January and I’ll ease off training slightly for that, so I don’t feel horrible at nationals, but the big goal is those Olympic qualification points at the World Cups.
“The priority over the next 18 months is getting as many Olympic points as we can. We’re tracking towards having two BMX spots at the moment which is really exciting. It would be amazing to have two of us at the Olympics.”
There are five Kiwi women leading that charge: Walker, Zoe Fleming, Baylee Luttrell, Jessie Smith and Rebecca Petch.
“Zoe is based in USA of the year and Baylee in Copenhagen. Jessie is based in Hamilton and I train with her quite a lot, same with Rebecca who is based in Te Awamutu.
“Rebecca is scoring pretty well in the Olympic points, that’s what is putting us in a position where we could get two spots. Jessie and Baylee are junior elite, so there points are actually a bit lower because of their class. They’ll both be old enough for Tokyo though.
“It’s hugely exciting. In the past it’s just been whether I’m going to qualify or not, but for them to come through, it’s really exciting for me. I’m not doing Paris 2024 so to see this big group coming through is awesome for the sport.
“Plus, the faster they get, the faster I have to get as well. I still have the belief that I’ll be the fastest in 18 months time, things are tracking really well and I know how to step up when I need to. I know how to enjoy it and make the most of the journey too, so I’m excited for the next 18 months.”
– NZ Herald/Rotorua Daily Post