WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Former BMX World Champion Ryan Nyquist is back home in Wilmington after coaching the first U-S Olympic BMX Freestyle Team at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. When athletes and coaches from around the world arrived in the city, they were greeted by strict COVID-19 protocols. Nyquist says the regular testing and social distancing rules limited what they could do and where they could go.
“We had Covid restrictions and everything which means we went to Tokyo, but we really didn’t see much of Tokyo,” Nyquist said. “We saw the airport, a lot of the village, which included mainly trips to the dining hall, and then bus rides back-and-forth to the venue. As far as international traveling, we didn’t get to see too much of the actual city of Tokyo first-hand. But we were there to do a job and we did all right. We got a silver medal.”
Hannah Roberts brought that medal back to the United States with her second-place finish in the BMX Freestyle Women’s Park Final. Roberts’ score of 96.10 fell short of Charlotte Worthington’s gold medal winning total of 97.50. Roberts had already won three world championships before competing in Tokyo as a 19-year-old. Nyquist says Roberts’ performance is even more impressive when you consider she badly injured an ankle during practice.
“Hannah is a beast, she really is,” Nyquist says of the now 20-year-old Roberts, who has moved to coastal North Carolina to continue her training. “She’s got such a propensity for pushing the sport as far as progression and tricks. I think she went in there with a goal of ‘gold or nothing’. So, for her it was a little tough to swallow. She did have that injury and we did everything we could to make sure that her foot was going to feel good. I mean, we were doing everything from tape and massage and chiropractic. The fact that she was even able to get silver with a foot that was so badly damaged is a true testament to her commitment of trying to get that goal accomplished of walking away with the gold.”
As a former three-time world champion in BMX, Nyquist won his first medals during ESPN X Games events before Hannah Roberts was born. Nyquist says he relied on his nearly two decades of professional riding experience to help these first-time Olympians keep things in perspective.
“We’ve had these BMX contests before, but this is the first time that the athletes have felt like, ‘Okay, not only is there the stress you put on yourself to ride well’, but they put a lot of stress that ‘Hey, I’m doing this for our country, for the United States of America!’,” Nyquist says. “That adds another level to it. For me, a lot of it was helping them to remain calm. On top of that, working on those runs with them, trick selection, using the insight of my experience for years of riding contests to know what the judges are looking for, what might be a good idea for them to as far as line choice and how to use the course.”
Fueled by the exposure of the X Games, BMX exploded in popularity during Ryan Nyquist’s professional career. Now, as the coach for a new generation of riders, Nyquist looks for even bigger things with BMX Freestyle becoming an Olympic sport.
“We’ve had big moments in sports with our sport being entered into the X Games in 1995,” Nyquist says. “That was a huge thing for us and for our sport, putting us on every TV in America. This (the Olympics) was an even bigger stage for us. For me, I just want this to be an amazing show. Obviously, we’ll want to get medals and stuff. But for the sport as a whole, I needed this to be an amazing show. We need that growth. We need kids to be inspired. We need people who used to ride to get excited about it and start learning about these new athletes.
Nyquist says Roberts and Benegas, the two top women on the U-S Olympic Freestyle Team, have both moved to southeastern North Carolina to continue training here at his complex in Wilmington. They only have to wait three years until the next Olympics in Paris, instead of four.
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