Games delay leaves Walker in limbo

Sarah Walker at Cambridge BMX Track. Photo: File

Four years ago, Cambridge BMX rider Sarah Walker had a choice to make.

“Did I want to keep riding?,” the London 2012 silver medallist had to ask herself after a major crash and resulting serious injuries took her out of contention for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Rio would have been her third Olympic appearance, but with those games off the table it was a question only she could answer – away from the bright lights and the world stage.

“As an athlete, when you say yes to those sorts of questions you know you’re committing everything you have to the next four years,” she said.

Ultimately, after some thought, she answered yes – at the time with a view to going to Tokyo later this year.

But, amidst the word-wide flow-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced last week that Tokyo was postponed until “no later than summer 2021.”

As that news began to filter through to New Zealand, the day before the country went into lockdown, somewhat fittingly Walker was in the place near her Cambridge home you’d most likely expect to find her.

“As news came through, I went for a solitary ride on my bike at the BMX track. To me, the fact riding my bike was the first thing I thought of doing in the light of that showed that four years ago, I made the right decision to keep going after my big crash.”

But for Walker – who got married last year – Tokyo’s postponement brings with it more decisions for her to make.

She said Tokyo could be her last Olympic campaign.

“I had to come back to the fact that at the heart of it, I ride because I love it,” she said.

There’s no doubt she wants to be there but, practically, having the games a year later means there are some things she needs to think about.

“I haven’t yet committed to Paris in 2024, and so I’m now working through what this means for me, on every level.”

She said she fully supports the decisions being made both here in New Zealand
and around the world to combat Covid-19.

“There’s no doubt those are the right moves and the right decision and I’m proud of New Zealand for taking them.”

But she hadn’t yet qualified for Tokyo and the Olympic postponement brought with it the postponement of about eight remaining qualifying events between now and the initial cut off of May for the BMX selections.

She was also excited because in this Olympic cycle – for the first time ever – New Zealand could have had two women qualify.

While she was “leaning towards a yes” for Tokyo, and is hopeful the postponed qualification events will be re-scheduled, a consideration she said was a factor was possible crashes and injuries in the year to come.

And she’s already had her fair share of those.

“When I’m riding and competing, I have to treat it as though there’s a 99.9 percent chance – probably even 100 percent – that I might have a crash and get injured.”

Throughout her career, an ongoing “conscious choice” to be positive in the face of adversity, and a genuine love for her sport has sustained her.

“You have to be positive.”

And in that cathartic moment when Walker was riding as postponement news broke, all these thoughts flashed through her mind.

“As I was on the track, with everything competitively off the table for now, it became clear as I was riding that I was riding just for me.

“It’s not often in life that you get asked, in a special moment, to really genuinely prove you truly love something when it comes down to it, and on the track I had to come back to the fact that at the heart of it, I ride because I love it,” she said.

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