Biography

Sarah Walker, New Zealand’s first Olympic BMX medallist, was born in Whakatane in 1988 and grew up in nearby Kawerau. She attended Kawerau South School and Trident High School in Whakatane. She started racing at the age of 10, in 1999. She’d watched her brother, Matt, riding BMX and thought it looked fun and wanted to have a go herself. After a superb junior BMX career in which she was in the top three in the world, Walker finished runner-up at the 2007 world championships in Victoria, Canada, and won the cruiser class world title in her first year as an elite cyclist. On the 2008 international circuit, Walker won seven races and gained a world No 1 ranking. She finished third in the world championships that year in Taiyuan, China. Her talent was obvious and she was one of the favourites for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but she had just turned 20 and found the Olympics a huge step up. BMX made its Olympic debut at Beijing in 2008 and Walker ended up in fourth place. She was impressive in her qualifying ride and in the semi-finals, where her time of 36.731s was the fastest recorded. In the final of the event – an event in which there is very little time to rectify the slightest error - she didn’t have a perfect ride and finished out of the medals. Frenchwoman Anne-Caroline Chausson was a clear winner, and Walker was edged out of the medals by another Frenchwoman, Laetitia Le Corguille, and by American Jill Kintner. In 2009, Walker was sensational at the world championships in Adelaide, winning both the elite and elite cruiser events. The following year at the world championship in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Walker finished second in the elite women's event, with first place going to Englishwoman Shanaze Reade. A crash during the elite cruiser event cost Walker any chance of retaining that title, either. Walker kept herself to the forefront of BMX racing throughout 2011. She made the podium in three out of four World Cup events to win the overall World Cup title – she won the Papendal Supercross in Holland, was second at the test event in London and third in South Africa. The fourth event was in the United States and she finished sixth. At the 2011 world championships, at Copenhagen, Denmark, Walker finished second to Colombian Mariana Pajon in the elite event. It seemed Walker might struggle to even get to London for the 2012 Olympics. She had a bad crash in Norway in April 2012 and dislocated her shoulder. For a time she feared her Olympic dream was over. Six weeks after her crash, she had to qualify for the Olympics at the world championships in Birmingham, which she did with a ninth placing. When she arrived in London, she was ranked No 7 in the world, but she rose to the occasion, winning the silver medal (and the sobriquet “Silver Sarah”). She was second fastest in her qualifying ride, but was sluggish in the semi-finals, qualifying only fourth (of four) in her section. However, in a crash-strewn final, she was outstanding. She could not catch the flying Pajon, but her time of 38.113s was 0.1s ahead of third-placed Dutchwoman Laura Smulders, Walker’s training partner. Afterwards, a tearful Walker, who was cheered on by her parents, Graham and Sue, and brother, Matt, said fear had helped drive her on to the dais. “I'm happy. They're tears of emotion and a little bit of disbelief as well. It's been a lot of hard work to get to this point,” she said. The crash earlier in the year meant Walker had to walk a tightrope to get to London, knowing any slip-up would end her games bid. “If I didn't push myself and push that limit and challenge myself I wouldn't be on the podium today. Every day was scary for me, training, for the last three months. “I was scared every time I rode my bike until about two weeks ago. Sometimes I'd do jumps and have a close call and I'd just cry. I was living right on the edge of either being a medallist or not even being at the Olympics. If I wanted to play it safe I could have been an Olympian again, but I wouldn't have been on the podium. I had to risk my body and the Olympics every day I was on my bike.” The breakthrough came a fortnight before the games when she rode a particularly challenging track in The Netherlands with Smulders. Walker's confidence soared after she zipped around it unscathed. Walker credits Hamilton sports psychologist David Galbraith, whom she consulted weekly for two years before the 2012 Olympics, for much of her success.

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470 sailors make it a day to remember

11 August 2012

Sailors Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie capped a memorable day for New Zealand at the Olympics today.