Natalya Diehm: Defying her body to pedal for BMX glory at Tokyo 2020

After her fourth reconstructive knee surgery in 2018, Freestyle Park rider Diehm nearly quit her sport. Now she’s competing in her discipline’s first ever outing at an Olympic Games.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Natalya Diehm of Australia was so ready to throw the towel in and call time on her decade-long BMX Freestyle career.

After a fourth reconstructive surgery on the same knee, the rider wondered whether the risks, and extreme stresses she was putting her body under every time she dropped in off the near-vertical ramps, was worth it.

Then, a call came.

It was three-time BMX world champion and two-time Olympian Caroline Buchanan on the line.

The Australian cycling great had heard that the 23-year-old was struggling with the motivation to get back on her bike and wanted to urge her onwards.

Buchanan worked her magic, and Diehm ended the call with a new resolve: with her sport set to appear for the first time ever at an Olympic Games, she had decided to there as a debutant to represent her country at Tokyo 2020.

On the morning of Saturday 31st July 2021 in Japan, Diehm will begin her competition as Australia’s first ever Olympic BMX Freestyle rider.

To find out more about Diehm’s road to Tokyo, read on.

Australia's BMX freestyle hope started young

Diehm’s first taste of the thrills of riding came at the tender age of eight.

After walking past the skatepark every day after school, eventually its draw sucked her in. As she gave it a go, mum and dad were compelled to be on standby to watch their daughter test the waters of her new sport.

Her parents weren’t there when young Natalya had her first big injury. At 11-years-old, the Queenslander, trying out new handlebars she had got as an early Christmas present, broke her elbow.

She had to get herself home from the skatepark, before eventually having surgery on the broken bone.

It would be the first of many injuries. At one point, Diehm had a broken hand in a cast on one side, and a second broken elbow injury in a cast on the other.

Perseverance a key in freestyle park

But it when it comes to physical setbacks Diehm knows very well the quality of resilience.

After her knee needed repairing with surgery for the fourth time her competitive spirit was pushed to its absolute limit, and still she continued.

Following that life-changing decision to recommit to her sport, Diehm hasn't stopped excelling.

In 2019, the Australian finished sixth at the UCI Urban Cycling World Championships at her country’s first ever appearance in the event. She followed that performance with a victory in the inaugural Oceania Championships, and clinched a national title.

All feats she never would have known had she quit.

Natalya Diehm 2
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

“We are like gymnasts on a bike in the air” - Diehm

At Tokyo 2020, BMX freestyle riders will compete in the park discipline, which involves them executing tricks and flips on obstacles such as walls, ramps, boxes, jumps, and spines.

In just 60 seconds, they will attempt to impress judges with their acrobatic skill and execution. The competitors will be assessed on different criteria including: difficulty, originality, height, execution, and creativity.

“We are like gymnasts in the air,” Diehm explains to Sirens Sport, capturing the complexity and demands of what her and fellow Olympics riders will be attempting to showcase in Ariake Urban Sports Park in Japan’s capital.

The Australian, alongside eight other women, will all be making history regardless of whether they come home with a medal or not. Tokyo 2020 will be the first time they get to show their sport at the Games which is promoting more urban sports including skateboarding.

How and when to watch BMX Freestyle at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Diehm begins her Olympic BMX Freestyle campaign with the women’s park seeding round on Saturday morning (31st July), at 10:10 JST, with the women's finals 24-hours later. The men's events take place on the same days. The event schedules are here.

To find out where you can watch Natalya Diehm and the BMX Freestyle competition click here.

For updates from action all across the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games be sure to follow our Live Blog here.

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