Kiwi BMX star has unfinished business

MARK GEENTY IN LONDON
Last updated 13:08 08/08/2012
Fairfax NZ

BMX riders Sarah Walker and Marc Willers are feeling fit and ready to start racing on Wednesday.

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The five Olympic rings adorn Marc Willers' left arm amid a flood of body ink, a reminder of his unfinished business from four years ago.

New Zealand's top male BMX rider had the tattoo inked in 2009, which snakes its way across his back and right arm, and takes in landmarks from his home town, Cambridge, and a major cup he won in the United States, where he lives and races. The five coloured rings stand out, a pointer to what's been driving the man who raced his first BMX at age four.

These Games have been on his mind since he finished 15th in Beijing in 2008 when, the 26-year-old explained this week, he "went in cocky and assumed everything was going to fall my way".

So he's comfortable shouldering the burden of medal expectation from the heavily-funded BikeNZ, who need him and top women's contender Sarah Walker to podium on Saturday morning (NZ time) to match the national body's four-medal target.

"It's just like any other race. Sarah and I have been doing our thing the whole time and I've gotten used to being on the podium so I've just got to keep it going," he said.

Willers has 31 rivals for the medals, including Tauranga's Kurt Pickard, when the three-day competition opens with the seeding time trials early tomorrow (Thursday, NZ time). Several rounds of quarterfinals are the following day, before three semifinals and the final one-off ride for gold.

The purpose-built BMX track beside the velodrome at Olympic Park is 450m for men and 440m for women, and provides good memories for Willers who won last year's World Cup round at the venue.

"The track is definitely going to be in my favour, like last year, the long first straight. I've got some good speed down there so you get to the first turn then the second straight has a little s-bend at the end which limits passing opportunities. That's always going to benefit me," he said.

Willers is ranked fourth in the world, and comes off a solid 2011 which included his London win and a third placing at the world championships in Copenhagen. He was in bronze medal position at this year's world champs in Birmingham when he crashed out, then completed his buildup with races in the US.

His main rivals are defending Olympic champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia, and world champion Sam Willoughby of Australia.

But Willers knows the sport can be a lottery. Luck plays a part and crashes can happen at any time (he badly dislocated his shoulder and tore muscles off the bone in 2009).

"The mental side of it is huge. The top guys are all pound for pound ... any of us could win at any time. It's just a matter of dialling in the mind and making sure it tells your body what to do when you need to do it."

If he needed any reminders this was the big show, he got it on Monday in his first day in the athletes' village when he sat down in the food hall at the next table to basketball stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

"The first few hours you're sitting there in the room looking out the window and it's kind of unreal; watching all the NBA players walk by."

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For now, the stargazing is over, and it's down to that unfinished business.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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