Dual Olympian Caroline Buchanan and rising star Kai Sakakibara have claimed the elite titles on a thrilling afternoon of finals at the 2017 BMX Australia National Championships at the Sleeman Sports Centre in Brisbane.
Buchanan overcame what she described as a fear of failure in front of the ‘crowd of familiar faces’ to lead from start to finish in the women’s race and win from fellow two-time Olympian Lauren Reynolds and defending Australian champion Leanna Curtis.
In the blue ribband men’s event Rio Olympic finalist Anthony Dean and fellow Rio representative Bodi Turner started favourites alongside national series champion Matt Juster, but it was 20-year-old Sakakibara who trumped them all.
Sakakibara sliced his way through the carnage on the first turn of the final as Dean and Juster came together and crashed to the bitumen, in turn bringing Turner down too.
“My start wasn’t the best but I still came out pretty good and I just saw Matt Juster and Anthony Dean coming in close on that first corner so I just decided to hold back a little bit and swoop underneath and it just worked out perfectly,” Sakakibara said.
“They all slide up towards the corner and I just had a clean line to myself.”
The tactic proved a masterstroke and from that point the Wollongong local was never headed, winning comfortably from fellow youngster Josh McLean and Tristyn Kronk.
For Sakakibara, the victory was his first elite national title just three years into his senior career and just over a month after he won his first ever elite men’s national series round.
Sakakibara said that win in Bathurst in March shifted his mental state and gave him the confidence to take on the likes of Dean and Turner.
“A lot of work goes into winning something like this,” Sakakibara said.
“For me it’s all been a mental change. My training’s always been there and I’ve always been capable of getting good results nationally but it’s getting that first win that’s the hardest and being able to line up against such fast riders and do it here.”
Earlier, defending champion Alex Cameron and 2016 runner-up Wade Turner were both eliminated in the motos, illustrating the growing depth in the elite men’s class.
The women’s race did not provide as much drama as the men’s event but the performance of Buchanan was just as strong.
Both Buchanan and Reynolds missed last year’s national championships as they prepared for the Rio Olympic Games and came to Brisbane this week nervous to race in front of a home crowd, feeling the pressure to perform at the domestic level after missing a year.
“That’s pretty special because I couldn’t be here last year,” Buchanan said.
“Myself and Lauren Reynolds were speaking before the final about how much more nerve wracking it is coming back and racing in Australia because we know everybody and we are racing in front of so many familiar faces.
“To have all those faces staring back at you, there’s fear and I kept telling myself to channel the fear.
“It puts a little more added pressure on but makes it all a bit more special when we can win in front of a home crowd. It almost feels like a little bit of an Olympic build up for a national title because we don’t get to do that many.
“To come home and actually perform in front of a home crowd I rate this as definitely quite high.”
Buchanan will return to her training base in the USA this week whilst Sakakibara headlines the Australian contingent travelling to the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup rounds in Papendal and Zolder in the next few weeks.