Silver girl Sarah Walker conquers her fear
A serious spill almost broke her spirit but Mark Geenty reports on how our silver medallist Sarah Walker fought back.
Of all the thank-yous a beaming Sarah Walker dished out after her stunning Olympic silver medal ride, the one to David Galbraith was the most telling.
The Hamilton sports psychologist got the plaudits for turning Walker from emotional wreck who didn't believe she deserved to grace a podium, to battle-hardened Olympic medallist at the age of 24.
"He's been absolutely amazing and a key part of the programme over the last two years to build up the confidence in myself,” Walker said.
“That skill has always been there, the strength you can always build up, but you can't always turn up to a race mentally. That was one thing I worked on really, really hard.”
Once a week for the past two years, the pride of Kawerau would see Galbraith and cast an eye towards the Olympics and how she would conquer the demons which racked her with self-doubt when finishing fourth in Beijing in 2008.
It meant yesterday's silver, behind Colombia's Mariana Pajon, was more a cathartic experience than one of unbridled joy. Relief rather than elation.
It all spilled out, at length, in her revealing post-race interviews. Especially because those doubts had crept in again after her first semifinal heat in which she made a slow start and finished fifth, before a fourth and a third snuck her into the medal race as fourth qualifier.
“I took in the moment and got a bit scared and a little bit blown away by the whole thing. Doing a pretty bad first race actually got me refocused and ready for the next one,” she said.
That refocus, honed by Galbraith, was to take any emotion out of the equation. Simple tasks like rolling her wrists forward on the handlebars, body position, breathing; anything to fill her mind and rid the fear.
She'd faced fear for the past three months, after dislocating her shoulder in Norway and knowing another crash could finish her Olympic dream.
“I was scared every time I rode my bike up until about two weeks ago. Sometimes I'd do jumps and have a close call and I'd just cry. I was living right on the edge of either being a medallist or not even being at the Olympics.”
With all the serious stuff out of the way, Walker flashed her million-dollar smile and waved to her parents, Graham and Sue, and brother, Matt, in the stands. The silver medal looked like it belonged around her neck.
BMX coach Ken Cools spoke glowingly of his star pupil and hoped Kiwi kids would be inspired.
“Sarah is such a great spokesperson for our sport, she's got a huge smile, she's a pretty girl, and a great sportswoman. Now she's proved she's one of the best athletes so she's the full package."