The 20-year old from Helensburgh, NSW, loves everything about the province in Northern Argentina and for many reasons.

COVER PIC: Courtesy of Saya Sakakibara Instagram

Tokyo Olympic hopeful Saya Sakakibara will line up on the gate this weekend in Santiago Del Estero, Argentina for the final two rounds of the 2019 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup and will look to her gold medal success at the same venue last year as inspiration to find the podium for the first time this season.

The 20-year old from Helensburgh, NSW, loves everything about the province in Northern Argentina and for many reasons.

First and foremost, it is the location of her first world cup win, after she bested USA’s 2019 world champion Alise Willoughby and the Netherland’s 2018 world champion Laura Smulders, the current powerhouses of female BMX.

“I have good memories there,” Sakakibara said.

“Especially after I won my first world cup. It was a big surprise, but I think that the track suits me, and I really like it.

“I really like the vibe there as well. Everyone just loves BMX and they love the international riders coming to town there.

“I had my first practice sessions today and the track hasn’t changed. This week is going to be really fun with everyone just hanging out due to the fact that it’s the last stop of the world cup and everyone is excited.”

Sakakibara has had contrasting starts to her elite women’s career, recording four podiums and making the finals six times in 2018, while her 2019 has been riddled with obstacles, making the finals four times and not coming away with a podium, something she hopes to change this weekend.

“I think this year has been quite challenging in many ways,” Sakakibara said.

“I have had lots of crashes and I have had to overcome some doubts that have been troubling me, which was something I didn’t really have last year.

“I’ve got a taste of what fear is like and what not getting on the podium is like. I guess it’s something all athletes have to deal with especially next year and leading up to the Olympics.”

Yet the NSW rider is on the rise after producing her best world cup performances of the year at the Rock Hill track in South Carolina two weeks ago, with a fifth place in round seven and a fourth in round eight.

Her performance at the 2019 UCI BMX World Championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, is where her confidence has flowed from, even though she crashed in the final to finish seventh.

“The first few world cups were a challenge and I think worlds was where I felt I was myself most,” Sakakibara explained.

“My riding showed that and even though I crashed in the final, it gave me a bit of a fire and I came into Rock Hill with full intentions of making the final and I was able to do that twice.

“I was satisfied because I did everything that I could, and I think that I am happier about that than the result.”

Now sitting eighth on the world cup standings, this weekend will be another opportunity to tick off more goals and to continue her road to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

One rider that has helped the young BMX star is Rio Olympian Lauren Reynolds, who has lined up on the world cup gate with her multiple times this year.

“I wouldn’t say that Lauren and I are very close,” Sakakibara said.

“But we respect each other a lot and we both wish the other to do really well when we compete against one another.

“At Rock Hill we actually fist pumped each other before the final and said to have fun out there.”

While Sakakibara sits eighth on 515 points, Reynolds is close behind her in ninth position on 490 points and, like Sakakibara, will be charging for her first podium of the year this weekend.

While Sakakibara and Reynolds will be the only female Aussie riders competing this weekend, they won’t be the only Australians in action.

Joining them on the men’s ledger is Saya’s older brother Kai Sakakibara, Rio Olympic finalist Anthony Dean, Joshua McLean and Adam Carey.

Round nine is expected to commence at 2:20am AEST on Sunday, September 28 with finals anticipated to commence at 3:55am.

Round ten is expected to commence at 2am on Monday with finals anticipated to commence at 3:35am

The current standings for the riders are below.

Kai Sakakibara: 13th 380 points

Anthony Dean: 23rd 245 points

Joshua McLean: 131st 4 points

Saya Sakakibara: 8th 515 points

Lauren Reynolds: 9th 490 points