BMX star content with silver, for now
Not so long ago, BMX riding barely registered on New Zealand's sporting radar, but Sarah Walker has changed all that.
The former world elite champion first registered on New Zealand's sporting radar by winning two titles at the 2009 World BMX championships in Adelaide, the cruiser class and the elite women's title.
That followed a meritorious fourth placing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and then she went two places better in London, winning silver.
Walker is one of the most recognisable faces in New Zealand sport now with her trademark beaming smile, bubbly personality and good looks, fronting television advertisements and being a pioneer in her sport.
She's also very humble and, most importantly for a sporting champion, fiercely determined and competitive.
Walker was at last weekend's Marlborough Rowing Championships held out of the Blenheim Rowing Club, watching her partner, New Zealand rowing elite squad member Ian Seymour from Wairau, competing.
Riding BMX is off limits now for the 24-year-old because following her silver medal-winning performance in London, she underwent surgery on a shoulder she badly damaged in the leadup to the Olympics. At a World Cup event in Norway, just three months out from the big event, she suffered the worst crash of her career.
That she was able to compete at all in London said a lot about what makes her so good, although she admitted it wasn't all plain sailing heading into the Games.
"There was not so much pain but mostly fear knowing my shoulder was unstable. I couldn't ride the bike for four weeks after the crash.
"So it was mental (anxiety) rather than physical pressure going into the Games because the harder you go in BMX the more chances you have of crashing."
When she finally got back on the bike, there was little pain but plenty of mental preparation.
"It took that much longer just to get that fear away and all that doubt so I wouldn't hesitate. Because in BMX you can't afford to hesitate."
By the time London came around, Walker was back to full fitness and reckons she was in the best shape of her life fitness-wise, apart from a still suspect shoulder.
Coming back from that injury to win an Olympic silver medal is something she'll cherish forever.
"I was thrilled to win silver. Why wouldn't you be? Silver's apparently the worst medal to get because gold winners are happy to have won and bronze winners are just stoked to be on the podium, whereas silver means that you have lost the gold.
"I definitely didn't feel that way. It was cool. I was very proud to win it."
BMX riding is highly entertaining to watch and breathtaking to take part in. With the mad dash all over in less than 40sec and, being a contact sport, you don't hold back if the going gets rough.
"That's part of it. When the gate drops you do what you do to get to the finish line as fast as you possibly can. It's cool that people think of BMX as racing now. Previously they thought it was back-flips and trick cycling.
"It's cool to know that I've played a part in changing the whole mindset of Kiwis towards BMX racing. That's massive."
Being such a fast race over a short distance, the gap between the top riders is minute and any one of the top 10 riders can win on the day. "Obviously by the Olympic final I had done three races and so had everyone else. Just using that 100 per cent in the last race is the key and not worrying about the result because that takes care of itself. If you are thinking about [the result] you are not thinking about how to go your fastest.
"There's eight people in a race and it takes 30-40sec. It all depends how you can perform in that 30sec. If you did that Olympic race 20 minutes later there would have been a different result."
With her arm in a sling, she's taking a well-earned three-month break and feels that's important. "I miss it already and it's only been three weeks off the bike. It's good to miss it and have that time off and realise, yeah, I really do miss it and want to do it." Sarah met Seymour while living in a rowers' flat in Cambridge. The fact he is also involved in elite international sport is a bonus. "Having someone like-minded helps. We understand our needs and it's good that we are not doing the same sport."
- The Marlborough Express