Charlotte Worthington pulled off the run of a lifetime to win the first-ever BMX freestyle Olympic gold medal. Tokyo 2020 caught up with her to talk about her less-than-ideal Olympic preparations, gold-winning heroics and the secret supercar that sealed her Olympic destiny.
The very nature of BMX freestyle means it's chock full of surprises. The freedom to choose the routes you run and tricks you perform is all in the hands of the individual rider.
But when you're readying a trick that no other woman has pulled off before in a competition – one that may hold the key to winning the Olympic gold medal – perhaps you might want to keep those cards a little closer to your chest than you normally would.
"There are so many tricks that didn't make it to the Games that have been kept under wraps," revealed Great Britain's Charlotte Worthington in an exclusive post-Games interview with Tokyo 2020. "We had a codename for the 360 flip, which is the Ferrari."
Ferrari was an apt name for Worthington's stunning backflip 360 that wowed the judges in the Tokyo 2020 BMX freestyle final. Not only had the move never been landed by a female BMX rider in any competition in history, it was also one that Worthington had failed to pull off on her first run just minutes earlier.
"I've been in that situation before. I've had the experience and I've done the same trick again and fell off again and finished dead last," Worthington said, looking back at previous competitions where the reward of trying to pull off something so daring had resulted in painful failure.
"Thankfully, I was completely riddled with adrenaline after dropping in," she said of her failed first run at the Olympics. "I really didn't feel the whiplash at the time. So when I fell off, I just felt relief that I'd just dropped in for my first run at the Olympics and I'd given it my best shot... and that was a weight off my shoulders."
Landing that trick didn't win me the Games, it was the whole run
So the Ferrari was out of the bag. Everyone knew what Worthington was aiming to do. But the question still remained: could she do it?
On her second run, she once again took to the air to attempt the trick. And as she hit the ground, after twisting and turning in a way that seemed to defy gravity, she had set a new standard for BMX riders the world over.
However, the Mancunian athlete was at pains to explain that it hadn't been one single trick that set her on the path to Olympic glory, rather the culmination of years of practice that had led to a perfect run at the time it really mattered.
"Landing that trick didn't win me the Games, it was the whole run," clarified Worthington, knowing that no matter how much the media like to focus on that 'one' moment, you need a near-perfect 60 seconds to earn a place on an Olympic podium – let alone the top step.
"So as much as I landed that trick, I had a much clearer focus on that second run. I feel like I just went into autopilot. The minute the tyres hit the ground and I was the right way up, I knew it was on."
In a sport where giant leaps of faith are an everyday occurrence, injuries are something that naturally accompany them.
Worthington, who missed out on the 2018 edition of the world championships after suffering a concussion, has had her fair share of bumps and bruises. However, just six weeks out from the Games, she suffered a re-occurrence of a dislocated shoulder that put her training – and even participation at the Olympics – in jeopardy.
"Six weeks out from the Games, it came out of something that was really nothing. It was really like, 'as if that has just happened!'
"It's almost a good thing I've done it before because it bounces back real quick... There were some really low days. We were planning to approach the Games a little differently and there were other tricks I wanted to bring in but as soon as that happened we had to cut down the list and say 'what can we do in this space of time?'"
What Worthington managed to do in that time won her the gold medal, and with it a place in Olympic history.
So what's next for the first-ever BMX freestyle Olympic gold medallist?
Well, her legacy is already being felt from the grassroots – where Worthington is already hearing stories of young girls wanting to take part in BMX for the first time – to the upper echelons of sport. British Cycling have already announced funding for BMX freestyle that covers everything from UK skateparks to coaching and a drive to increase female participation.
"It's going to go towards creating a contest structure in the UK, which there currently isn't one, so kids can't get the experience of competing. And they're going to work with groups to encourage more people, especially girls, to get into it, and offer education classes to coaches, amongst other things," she explained.
And Worthington has a special message for any young girls who are looking to follow in her footsteps and maybe, just maybe, achieve a dream of becoming an Olympic champion.
"Break the rules, break the stereotype, break the stigma," she said. "There aren't male or female sports, you don't have to do one or the other. Someone said to me, 'I love what you do because I can say to my daughter, 'you don't have to do just gymnastics or ballet' things that are stereotypical things for girls.'
"And for everyone, just dream big. Dream big and take a chance on yourself. So long as you enjoy it, which is the most important thing, it won't feel like you're working a day in your life."
For now, Worthington is making up for lost time, going from one interview to another and indulging in things she had to sacrifice for her Olympic dream. In this case, cake.
"Mainly it's food," she said. "The amount of times I've gone to a restaurant and seen a banging dessert menu, it's really disappointing.
"I've got a really sweet tooth and that's something I can't resist: a dessert. Many desserts."
When the dust settles, Worthington will have her eyes set on an Olympic return at Paris 2024, where she will attempt to become the first-ever double Olympic BMX freestyle champion.
As for what she has up her sleeve, if an eavesdropping competitor hears the words Lambourginhi, Porsche or Mercedes, they'd better watch out.
Because who knows what medal-winning tricks Worthington is about to pull out.
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