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My Experience at UCI BMX Worlds Birmingham – Jeannie Mansell

Seven days of BMX, 2108 Challenge Class Entries, 338 Championship Class Entries, it all seemed a little overwhelming. I walked up to the NIA in Birmingham without really knowing what it would be like to live and breathe a BMX race for 7 days. I was excited to watch but a little fearful of what I would actually have to do. The travel was the easy part, the race I feared would not be. There were no illusions of my result since my usual class had been changed and I was to compete with a group of much younger ladies. I still decided to go bearing in mind that I had little chance of making it to the main event; I wanted to see what it was like to participate to a World Championship race.

The atmosphere was similar to races that we have travelled to in Alberta, kids riding around hotels on their bikes, parents chatting in the lobbies and the bewildered public wondering who brought this mayhem to their city. There was one difference in Birmingham, many people knew what a BMX race was and were looking forward to the event. The most astonishing thing to me was meeting a family who were crazy enough to sit beside the Canadian Headquarters – the top few rows in Block 4! This family had never been to a BMX race before, yet they paid a considerable admission fee and were awestruck by the thrill of the racing and skill of the competitors.

The track itself was more intense than anything I have ridden! I made the mistake of not going to look at the track before practice. I was not prepared for the amateur start hill; it was a big psychological obstacle for me, but eventually I was able to get on my bike and ride down. As I did so there was a huge cheer and applause, I never found out who it was exactly but it reminded me of the first time that I rode a BMX track at Abbotsford Indoor. This is one of the things that I love about BMX, the support of your fellow riders and the sportsmanship that is shown to each competitor. I wondered what it would be like at an international competition; this proved to me that it really was “just another BMX race”. When I arrived back in Canada last week, I rode the Abbotsford outdoor track and noticed just how small the obstacles there seem in comparison with the track I had ridden on the week before.

The quality of competition was exceptional. As I watched each moto of even the youngest challenge classes I could not believe the competitive spirit that each showed, trying their best to find the quickest line on a track that they had ridden only a handful of times. The first day of competition I watched the 900+ younger challenge riders (ages 5 to 14) wear themselves out in the course of competition. Each finish was equally celebrated and the riders were cheered on by their fans in various languages. It was interesting to hear that the French cheer allez, allez, allez; a much clearer cheer than pedal, pedal, pedal!

My highlight of the week was watching the Junior and Elite classes. The skill and smoothness that each and every rider showed in the time trial segment left me wondering how the next rider could be any better.  I watched their gate techniques to try to learn their secrets. Their race strategies were very well laid out and I learned some new ideas to try when the “holeshot” doesn’t work! Sitting in a sold out crowd that cheered and gasped at each triumph and crash, I discovered that this part of the race was different from anything I had experienced in Canada, it was not just the parents and riders cheering, there were avid BMX fans in the crowd.

I met many people as I carried the Canadian flag, sat in the stands and waited in lines for my turn on the track. As I spoke with each person, they enriched my experience; the approachable pros who were proudly carrying their country’s flag, the flip flop clad coaches who had a serious job to do, the busy team managers who were like shepherds just trying to keep up with all their riders, and finally the mass of participants who were trying their best to master a track in a few short practice rounds. I learned from each one of them that their reason for being there was not just to represent their country but to enjoy the company of strangers that they may have only one thing in common with, “just another BMX race”. I consider it one of the best vacations we have taken and I’m ready to do it all again!