Kiwi motocross rider an overnight millionaire
Palmerston North's Levi Sherwood has become the youngest-ever winner of the Red Bull X-Fighters tour championship - and an overnight millionaire.
In a landmark moment for the changing face of New Zealand sport, Sherwood has thrust New Zealand's non-Olympic identity even further into the global spotlight.
The 21-year-old sealed the world title and a $1.3m windfall yesterday, claiming the Sydney leg of the extreme motocross world series on Cockatoo Island - his third stage win of the 2012 world tour.
With the likes of freestyle skier Jossi Wells and surfer Paige Hareb, Kiwis are becoming increasingly renowned for success in extreme, developing and youth-driven sports.
And unlike his more traditional peers, Sherwood has done it all off his own back, self-building practice facilities on his Manawatu farm as a teenager, with Government funding all but completely closed to him.
Last week High Performance Sport New Zealand boss Alex Baumann told the Sunday Star-Times he wants to start addressing that imbalance in non-Olympic funding, a declaration punctuated by Sherwood's world title.
Suddenly Sherwood, nicknamed "Rubberman", finds himself one of New Zealand's highest-paid sport stars - comparable to the likes of Sonny Bill Williams whose deal with a Japanese rugby club is worth $1.7m.
Awarded a golden Stetson for winning the Sydney stage, Sherwood celebrated the championship by spraying champagne over a bevy of promo girls - decked out in Daisy Dukes and white singlets.
Heading into Sydney locked in a two-horse race for the championship with Thomas Pages of France, the script saw Sherwood and Pages progress through the head-to-head knockout format to a fitting face-off in the final.
But when Pages' final got off to a terrible start, falling off his bike early into his routine, the door was wide open for Sherwood.
Knowing a relatively modest display would be enough, Sherwood continued to push the envelope with a batch of daring stunts.
“I knew it was going to be very difficult, he [Pages] definitely made it a challenge,” Sherwood said.
“To come here and get another win is amazing," he said.
Making the achievement even more impressive, Sherwood sustained serious injuries in Las Vegas last year when he broke two bones in his left wrist, fractured two vertebrae, lacerated his liver, bruised a lung, and "banged my kidney around a bit" after crashing in practice - injuries which put an end to his hopes of competing in the previous X-Games.
“I've been thinking a lot more about consistency than I used to. That's the major thing in our sport, it's really hard to stay in one piece all season."
Only last month Sherwood said his future in the sport beyond this season was uncertain. He is now the national poster-boy of youth-culture sport.
Sunday Star Times