South Australian Sam Willoughby has been crowned world champion after winning the elite men's title this morning at the 2012 UCI BMX World Championships in Birmingham, England.
"This is a dream come true," said Willoughby after an enthusiastic victory celebration that saw him run back across the finish line and throw his goggles into the crowd as he soaked up the applause. "I won it in junior (2008 and 2009) but this tops everything."
The 20 year old won his first national title 11 years ago and has never wavered from his goal to be the best in the world of BMX.
"I've dreamt of this since I was six, before I even started BMX I was a fan and I had an ice cream lid in my backyard on my bike with W1 on it and here it is," said Willoughby of the race number plate signifying the world number one.
"I can't thank everyone enough, my parents are here and I love them so much," he said.
Leading into the championships Willoughby had been frustrated by second place finishes in all three Supercross World Cup rounds. At the most recent in the Netherlands he crashed hard during the time trial and suffered bad bruising to his shoulder, knee, and hip but was back on his bike the next day. However an intense head-to-head battle went the way of Olympic Champion Maris Strombergs from Latvia who headed Willoughby on the line by a mere 16 thousandths of a second to win the Papendal round.
"It's so cut-throat out there and you have to be perfect every time. I've been 98 percent every time so I just need to get that extra two percent," said Willoughby at the time.
Today he found the two percent he needed and more as he used the loss to fuel his campaign for gold. He powered through the early rounds placing first in every race bar his quarter final. In his semi final he led from start to finish.
In the final he had the inside run from the number one start position at the gate and rocketed down the start ramp to hit the lead at the first berm (corner). He kept up the pressure to be a bike length clear by the halfway point and from there he was never headed. He crossed the line almost a second ahead of French silver medallist Joris Daudet. Moana Moo Caille, also of France, was a further seven tenths of a second behind in third place. South Australian Anthony Dean was fourth.
Willoughby's result has earned him an automatic nomination to the Australian Olympic Committee for selection in the team for the Olympic Games in London but the new world champion will first take some time to savour today's result.
"I'm going to enjoy this one (and) then switch gears and go for that Olympic one," he said. "We'll start training again in a week or so but right now I'm going to let this thing sink in because that's going to take a week or so."
In the women's racing Canberra's Caroline Buchanan, who won the time trial title yesterday, made it through to the semi-finals but she didn't find the speed needed and missed out on a berth in the final. West Australian Lauren Reynolds also made it into the semi-finals but her run ended when she was caught up in a crash. She got back on her bike and rode across the line in sixth place but that wasn't enough to put her through to the medal round. Melinda McLeod crashed out of contention in the quarter final.
In the elite junior women's final Australian Rachel Jones placed fifth.
Australia went into the Championships as the number one nation in the UCI world rankings (as at 17 April) in both men's and women's elite competition and has qualified the maximum of five starting positions (three men and two women) for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
While rider ranking is an important part of the nomination criteria a rider who wins a medal in the elite class race (time trials not included) at the World Championships will secure automatic nomination for selection by the Australian Olympic Committee in the team for London. The BMX team for the Olympic Games is due to be announced by the AOC in late June.
High Performance Team (ranking as at 15 May)
BMX 20" - Elite Men
- Anthony DEAN (Wynn Vale, SA, 22.04.1991) (Ranked 32 in the world)
- Brian KIRKHAM (Clapham SA, 01.01.1986) (Ranked 5 in the world)
- Sam WILLOUGHBY (Trott Park SA, 15.08.1991) (Ranked 2 in the world)
- Khalen YOUNG (Kelmscott WA, 20.11.1984) (Ranked 16 in the world)
- Caroline BUCHANAN (Kambah ACT, 24.10.1990) (Ranked 1 in the world)
- Melinda McLEOD (Mackay, QLD, 12.02.1993) (Ranked 4 in the world)
- Lauren REYNOLDS (Bunbury, WA, 25.06.1991) (Ranked 6 in the world)
- Bodi TURNER (Bayswater North, VIC, 18.09.1994) (Ranked 10 in the world)
- Corey FRIESWYK (Glenella, QLD, 26.01.1994) (Ranked 12 in the world)
- Rachel JONES (Cameron Park, NSW, 18.10.1995) (Ranked 8 in the world)