Saya Sakakibara has claimed her second ever world cup medal in France overnight. The young rider raced to bronze behind Dutch superstar Laura Smulders and Russian athlete Natalia Afremova
(PIC: Courtesy @BMXHPN Instagram)
Rising BMX star Saya Sakakibara has raced to a bronze medal finish at the first round of the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines, 25km west of the centre of Paris, France overnight.
The 18-year-old from Helensburgh, in the NSW Illawarra region, was beaten only by Olympic bronze medallist and two-time world cup series champion Laura Smulders of the Netherlands, Russian athlete Natalia Afremova finished second.
Today’s podium is the second at the world cup level for Sakakibara, despite being in only her first year as an elite women’s rider. A cameo appearance at the top level in late 2016 – while still a junior elite competitor – yielded her a silver medal at the penultimate round of that year in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA.
Smulders was also the winner on that day.
However now in her first year out of school, and as an elite rider, Sakakibara produced a near-flawless day on the track in France. Collecting wins in each stage of racing from the first round to the semi final, the young Australian was in good stead come the final.
Knowing Smulders strength off the start line, Sakakibara elected to start right next to the Dutch superstar, with a plan to follow in her tracks and try and steal the win. But a fast start from Afremova put paid to that strategy.
Today’s result added to the gold medal Sakakibara won at last weekend’s second round of the UEC BMX European Cup in Verona, Italy.
“It feels great to get my second world cup medal, especially following on from last weekend I had a lot of confidence and now I know where I am at on the world stage,” Sakakibara said.
“I felt calm on the gate for each race, and I didn’t put pressure on myself. I enjoyed it, raced clean and it got me all the way to the final.
“I have gated next to Laura a few times, and knew she had a strong start. I learnt that last weekend. But in the final I took lane two and the plan was to follow her down the start hill and first straight, aiming for a pass during the race.
“But Natalia had a better gate than me, and I was knocked back into third place. I was really happy with my start in the final compared to some of my others during the day though.”
What is perhaps more important to Sakakibara than the hardware she received for her efforts, was the confirmation that she has the mettle to dice with the world’s elite.
“Today I learned that I am definitely right up there with the best in the world, which is a really good feeling. I do have a spot on the international podium, I just need to keep my head in the game so I can step up again tomorrow,” she said.
Other Australian results saw two-time Olympian Lauren Reynolds finish 10th overall. The Western Australia native just missed a spot in the final, finishing fifth in the semi-final round. Queensland’s Sara Jones’ day finished at the quarterfinal stage, 17th her final standing.
Canberra’s Harriet Burbidge-Smith finished her day at the 1/8th final stage.
On the men’s side of the ledger Kai Sakakibara was our highest ranked finisher, having made it to the 1/8th round. While fighting for a quarterfinal spot, he got tangled up with another rider, ending his day – and chance at the quarterfinals – at the second to last turn.
Shane Rosa, Jye Hombsch, Brandon Te Hiko, Andrew Hughes all progressed through the opening rounds of the day.
Round two of the UCI BMS Supercross World Cup commences overnight tonight. Coverage of the event begins with a live stream at 1:30am AEST. Finals scheduled for approximately 5:15am on Monday April 2.
WATCH SAYA’S FINAL AND ALL THE AUSSIES BELOW!