SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian rider Luke Madill has built a remarkable full-size replica of the Olympic BMX (bicycle motocross) track in his backyard to ensure he leaves no stone unturned in his bid for Beijing glory.
Undeterred by a life-threatening injury suffered in training in 2006, Madill has spent over six months and about A$35,000 (US$32,000) constructing the 370-metre course at his family's six-acre property in western Sydney.
The track features a three-storey high starting ramp and all the jumps, bumps and bends of the track that will be used to decide the gold medal in Beijing where the sport, inspired by motocross but human-powered, is set for a thrilling debut.
Madill got some help from his brothers and father, who runs a metal sheet fabrication company, but did most of the hard labour himself, including operating heavy machinery.
It was a complex job, requiring bulldozers to move the thousands of tonnes of soil, cranes to stack three shipping containers on top of each other to build the start and plenty of digging with the shovel to install the drainage system to prevent erosion.
It is the only track of its kind in the southern hemisphere and one of just four in the world, but Madill believes the hard work will be worth it if it proves the difference between winning and losing.
"There's not many tracks around like this so to have one in my own backyard has got to help," he told Reuters in an interview.
"Most riders might only get to ride on them once every few months but I can do it 24/7.
"The main thing it gives me is confidence. Sometimes when you go to these new tracks with their steep starts it can be a little bit scary, but because I practice on it all the time, the starts just all look flat to me now."
The Australian BMX team for Beijing will not be announced until early June but Madill is almost assured of his place. He is ranked fifth in the world and needs only to be among the top three Australians to make the team.
His interest in BMX began when he was three and being pushed around the track by his brothers.
He won his first national title at age seven, has racked up 11 national championships and is one of just two Australians who ride professionally.
The 27-year-old regularly races for prize money in Europe and North America, but it is the lure of Olympic gold that has got his attention this year.
"I'd been hearing for years (that BMX would be included in the Olympics) but no one really expected it would happen so it was a bit of a shock," he said.
"All of a sudden everything's changed. I try not to think about it but it's always in the back of your mind. It's definitely become my goal."
Madill came up with the idea of building a replica course at his home after speaking with his main sponsor Red Bull.
"They asked me what could they do for me to help me get a medal and we came up with the idea of a track....it was just like that," he said.
"It was a long and frustrating process because we had a lot of rain while we were building it but it's come out much better than we ever expected."
The track is so good in that the entire Australian team have been holding official training sessions there, though Madill says there is a limit to his hospitality.
"They only come out about once a month, not every day," he said.
"And I don't know if I'd let all the Americans and Europeans come and practice here for free because they're our main opposition in Beijing. It's still every man for himself."
BMX has come a long way since it started in California in the 1960s. Riders can reach speeds up to 80 kph and the dangers are obvious.
In 2006, Madill crashed heavily during a training run in Adelaide, breaking three vertebrae, his nose and his hand as well as suffering a life-threatening blood clot in his spinal cord.
He spent three weeks paralyzed in hospital and doctors told him he would never compete again but he proved them wrong.
"It was a pretty terrible time. I also thought I would walk again because I had some feeling in my toes but you just know never know with spinal injuries," he said.
"When I was lying there in hospital, it crossed my mind but as soon as I got out, I cleared my head and got back on the bike. I know it's dangerous and there's a risk but when you're racing you just don't even think about it.
"The Olympics are going to be fantastic because people will see just how great this sport really is. It's not just big kids pedaling as fast as they can any more."
Editing by Dave Thompson