Solid showing from Kiwis at BMX world champs

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2013
Marc Willers
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
BEST OF THE BUNCH: Marc Willers on his way to silver in the men's elite race.

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No golds, but a silver and a bronze wasn't a bad medal haul for New Zealand from the BMX world championships in Auckland.

Marc Willers finished second in the men's elite race, behind Britain's Liam Phillips, while Hannah Sarten from New Plymouth was third in the women's junior competition.

The 27-year-old Willers from Cambridge was a controversial figure leading up to these world champs, tweeting a picture of the track and saying it was embarrassing to be a Kiwi this week didn't go down well with organisers.

He was off limits to the media from then until after the race, but once he'd finished he admitted he didn't know what reaction he'd get from the sold out crowd at Vector Arena because of his comment.

"After the last week I wasn't sure if I was going to get boos or cheers when I got to the gate, so it was good to get cheers," Willers said.

He didn't back down from his initial thoughts on the track, although admits that his tweet wasn't the best way to express his views.

But the fact that after he crossed the finish line in the final he smashed into an electronic scoreboard that exploded as it fell on his head was a good indicator that this was indeed a very small venue for a world championships.

"It is still a really tight track, there was a lot of carnage out there," Willers said.

"I said some things in the heat of the moment, the pressure was getting to me.

"At the end of the day it was a dog fight and it was a matter of trying to keep out of trouble or hold your ground and not get exploded at the same time."

Maris Strombergs, Sam Willoughby and Connor Fields were three of the big names who didn't make it to the men's final, while New Zealanders Kurt Pickard and Daniel Franks bowed out in the semi-finals.

In the final, Phillips shot out into the lead at the first corner and never looked like being overtaken.

"It is a little bitter sweet," said Willers of getting the silver medal.

"I came out here today looking to go mistake free and I made a crucial mistake in hitting the gate in the final, but this is the best finish I've ever had in the worlds.

"I had to make a big decision coming into the second turn on whether I was going to go for the win or not, I decided to cling to second. It's still a better result than how it could have ended up, so I'll take it."

The 17-year-old Sarten was over a second behind the American winner Felicia Stancil and it needed a photo finish for Shayona Glynn to be placed ahead of her.

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"I feel great, I haven't felt like this in so long, it feels amazing," said an elated Sarten afterwards.

"It was a pretty rough race, I almost fell off down the second straight, but I fought back and it was a really good lap."

Bike NZ BMX coach Ryan Hollows said Sarten is someone who looks to have a great future ahead of her in the sport.

"She has got huge potential, she is still only a first year junior and to be on the podium as that is outstanding," he said.

"She's someone we'll definitely be keeping our eye on moving forwards and don't be surprised if she's up at that top level in a few years.

"To have two medals in four classes was beyond expectations and we're really happy with that," he added.

Sarah Walker was the public face of these world champs, but was forced to watch the finals from the stands.

Early yesterday morning in a training run the Olympic silver medalist crashed and at the time it was feared she had broken her collar bone, on the same side as her broken arm.

An x-ray at Auckland Hospital showed that wasn't the case but Walker was unable to compete. Even so, she decided to ride in her three moto races, which are to determine who qualified for the knockout races later in the day.

Walker just rolled around the 300m course in each race, waving to the spectators who gave her a rapturous applause.

Speaking after the third race, Walker said she was determined to go to the start line, even though she wasn't able to be competitive.

"It has been great to at least get on the gate, that was my goal," Walker said.

"I've had a local anesthetic on my shoulder just so I could get through the rounds," she said.

"It was good to be able to get up on the track and at least show my face for some racing.

"Unfortunately it's not how I wanted it to go. I would have loved to have given it my best shot, but to be able to roll around the track and wave to the fans and thank them for coming was nice."

The women's race was won by Caroline Buchannan from Australia, while Sam Gaian from USA took out the men's junior title.

- Stuff

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