These are hugely exciting times for BMX. Though the sport has been on the Olympic programme since 2008, a brand new event, freestyle park, is set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020. Before that, however, BMX fans will get a sneak preview of what to expect when freestyle park takes a bow at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games (YOG), which will take place in the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires next October.
Buenos Aires 2018 and Tokyo 2020 will provide freestyle park with its biggest ever platform, and offer the world’s top BMX freestylers a chance to put themselves centre stage in the Olympic spotlight. One of the riders who is touted to make a huge impact at both the 2018 YOG and the Olympic Games two years later is Hannah Roberts, a 15 year-old from Indiana, USA, who, despite her tender years, is taking the world of BMX freestyle park by storm.
It would be so cool to be a part of the Youth Olympic GamesHannah Roberts
Roberts began 2017 in sparkling form, taking victory in the first World Cup of the season, FISE Montpellier, in May, and she is looking to build on that victory and secure selection for the American team for next year’s YOG. “It would be so cool to be a part of the Youth Olympic Games,” said Roberts. “It would be one of the biggest things that could happen for me right now because I’ll only get one shot at it, so it would be really cool to have an experience like that.”
Roberts appears to have broken into the elite ranks of BMX freestyle park at just the right time. The announcement earlier this year that the event was to be included on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic programme was, admits the youngster, a thrilling development. “It’s amazing that we got into the Olympic Games,” she enthuses. "When I first heard that we’d got onto the Olympic programme, I got so excited and I started pushing myself even more in training. I’ve learnt six new tricks since the announcement and I can’t wait to show them off at the next contest.”
Roberts first became interested in BMX freestyle park as an eight year-old through her cousin, Brett Banasiewicz, who is himself one of the world’s best BMX riders; and if the teenager, who will be 18 by the time the 2020 Olympic Games arrive, continues improving as she is, she will likely be one of the gold medal favourites in Tokyo. Roberts views the growing expectation levels surrounding her as a compliment rather than a burden. “I do feel like I have a lot of pressure on me but it’s all good pressure,” she says. “That pressure just makes me want to become a better rider. I know that people look up to me and that helps me be so much better on my bike.”
BMX freestyle park is a thrilling spectacle, which sees the riders executing a series of outrageous jumps and tricks. To onlookers, the tricks the riders attempt can seem nothing short of terrifying and Roberts admits that she is not immune to feeling scared during her runs. “Fear is definitely the biggest factor in riding and you have to figure out how to use your fear in a good way to push yourself even more and get even better,” she explains. “The way I overcome my fear is that I’ll do tricks over and over again into the foam pit until I make sure that I’m safe doing it on a real ramp. Then you just have to talk yourself up to it and go for it. I still get nervous though – even tricks that I do all the time are still terrifying when I’m doing them on a real ramp. You have to believe that you’re going to do it – if you have any doubt then it’s going to end up badly. And I’m quite stubborn so if I say I’m going to do it, it’s going to happen.”
Roberts is aware of her role as an ambassador for freestyle park, and is keen to help other young BMX freestylers follow in her footsteps. “Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted to be a part of the Olympics and so to ride at the Olympics is the biggest goal for me personally,” she said. “I’d also love to help my sport do as well as possible, and I want to be somebody who younger kids can look up to and want to ride like me. And I’d like to be somebody who helps kids in BMX and with things like sponsorship and so really, to be able to help anybody in the sport is a huge dream of mine.”