Illawarra BMX prodigy Saya Sakakibara has won her first ever UCI BMX Supercross World Cup gold medal in the eighth and final round of the 2018 series in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, the result decided in a photo finish.
Just two years ago, Sakakibara contested her first world cup round in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA and came away with a silver medal, despite still being classified as a junior at the time. While it was the 2016 result which earmarked her potential, it was today’s result put an exclamation on the 19-year-old’s intent to be selected for the 2020 Australian Olympic team.
The Tokyo Games might be a little under two years away, but the ladies Sakakibara beat to the line in Argentina today were of Olympic pedigree. The young Aussie led from the get-go, but hot on her heels was American BMX darling Alise Willoughby, a former world champion and silver medallist from the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Also in the hunt was world number one and 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Laura Smulders of the Netherlands. While Sakakibara had the edge for much of the lap, her winning result didn’t come easy as all three riders lunged for the line, a photo finish declaring it Sakakibara from Willoughby and Smulders.
“I still can’t believe it!”, Sakakibara said.
“The finish was so close and I had this little voice in my head as I crossed the line saying that I had won but to hear it announced was really special.”
“I’m so grateful for my whole support team, the Australian Cycling team, the Australian fans back home and of course my parents and brother Kai. It’s a win for me but really, it’s a win for all of us and it’s been a load of hard work and I’m just stunned. It’s amazing!”
In a top-line day for Australia, Sakakibara wasn’t the only Aussie to find the podium. Rio Olympic finalist, Anthony Dean won bronze in the elite men’s final after a bar-banging battle with two-time world champion Joris Daudet of France and Argentine hero Gonzalo Molina.
Come the finish line, Daudet took an express pass to gold, Molina second with Dean third.
Capping the day for the Australian team was Sakakibara’s second overall placing in the 2018 world cup standings. After contesting her first full season on the world circuit, the youngster was beaten only by Smulders.
Other Australian results from today’s action saw Gold Coast rider Josh McLean finish as a semi-finalist, while Sakakibara’s older brother Kai ended his day in the quarterfinals.
Take a look at the final round below!