MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A frantic 40-second ride on a bumpy, dirt track decided the gold medal in the BMX final at the London Olympics but left Australia’s Caroline Buchanan with four years to stew over a chance gone begging.
The Canberra native entered the final at the Velopark after setting the fastest time in the seeding runs but a poor start out of the gate saw her finish fifth and the title go to Colombia’s Mariana Pajon.
It was a crushing blow for a 21-year-old widely tipped to win a medal after dominating on tracks around the world.
Buchanan has had more than enough time to analyze her disappointment, while building the title-winning confidence she believes will bring her best rides at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
“I just put London down to being my first Olympics,” the 25-year-old told Reuters in an interview.
”It’s not every day you stand in front of thousands of people like that, wearing the green and gold of Australia. You feel the support of the country but it can also very easily feel like the pressure of the nation.
“Physically, I was more than ready but mentally I probably wasn‘t. The Olympics is a whole other ball-game. It’s such a different level to any other events. Everyone just really rises up another level.”
Buchanan dug herself out of her post-London funk by bagging world titles in BMX and mountain biking, earning herself the nickname ‘Queen of the Dirt” and winning Australia’s Sir Hubert Opperman Medal as the country’s most successful cyclist in 2013.
She has continued to climb podiums at major events since, with her profile in the extreme sport bolstered by a big following on her social media accounts.
The Olympic effect on BMX since its debut at the 2008 Beijing Games has meant more of the world’s elite riders can support themselves full-time from prize money and endorsements.
Buchanan has a healthy roster of corporate backers attracted by the big online audiences her on-track videos draw.
“BMX didn’t really have a lot of access to mainstream media before,” she said.
”Before, it was about being able to tell fans about myself and what I‘m doing but now it’s become sort of a really crucial tool.
“For sponsorship, social media is quite key for a lot of brands. They ask you what your following is... They want that return on investment.”
Buchanan spoke to Reuters by telephone from Argentina where she was preparing for a BMX World Cup event in Santiago Del Estero, a sleepy provincial capital in northern Argentina.
With Colombia’s Pajon winning gold at London and Rio the next Olympic host, BMX has enjoyed huge growth in Latin America.
Colombia will host the world championships from May 25 in Medellin and Buchanan has picked up more than a few phrases in Spanish from touring the continent.
Bringing a medal home to Australia could prove a similar boost for Australia’s BMX scene, which has ridden in the tail-winds of the country’s traditional strengths in track and road cycling.
“I spend a lot of my time in America and the BMX doesn’t really get as much support over there,” said Buchanan, who has a training base in California.
“It’s probably one of the great things about Australia, (the authorities) do get behind the niche sports.”
Editing by John O'Brien