Ten years on: “Competing at the YOG was a special feeling,” says BMX star Van Gendt

Ten years after winning a bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Singapore 2010, reigning world BMX champion Twan van Gendt, of the Netherlands, reflects on his YOG experiences and his goals for Tokyo 2020.

It’s been 10 years since you made your Olympic debut at the inaugural YOG. What are your memories from Singapore?

“The memories of that event are actually really great. If I look back to London, Rio and Singapore, my two favourites were Singapore and London. When you go to the Olympic Games, you're in such a small bubble and you’re so focused on your race. But in Singapore, I went there for four weeks and was able to experience everything, like the Opening Ceremony. And it felt very special.”

What was it like competing at the YOG?

“It wasn't very different from the Olympic Games, actually. And that was a good thing to experience, because then when you do go to the Olympic Games it has the same atmosphere – you’re there with different kinds of athletes and everybody does their own thing. Plus, there’s this whole team vibe, where everybody’s supporting each other without really knowing each other. That’s cool. You have the same passion and you share that with different athletes, different sports, and learn from different sports as well.”

What was it like to win the bronze medal in the combined mixed team event?

“I wasn't really super happy with it at the time but, looking back now, I’m really happy. I’m an individual athlete and in BMX itself I would have won the silver, but we only won medals as a team. In the end, I’m pretty stoked to have the bronze medal. It was a team effort.”

Were you able to learn things in Singapore that helped you when you went to the Olympic Games London 2012 two years later?

“Yes, because the whole Olympic experience wasn't really new anymore; I'd been there before. Singapore was obviously smaller, but it was set up the same, with the same protocols and things like that. So, once you’ve been there, you can say, ‘Okay, I know how this works’.”

What was it like competing in London just two years after the YOG?

“I was living life; I was so pumped to be there because I didn't expect it. I developed myself so hard. And then, if I look back at my race, I almost got the best spot in the final, but I was too [much of a] rookie to get a medal there. I won the third run in the semi-final, beating the guys who ended up winning gold, silver and bronze, so I was good enough, but mentally wasn't ready to perform in that last lap.”

Did that make you more determined to come back and fight for a medal again at the Olympic Games Rio 2016?

“It definitely did, and Rio was supposed to be my time, because I was ready for it. I had won, and then things all went in a different direction and I crashed in the semis, and you go out – no main event, no final – and that's a bitter pill to swallow. And then six months after that, it was really a struggle to find a rhythm again. Then in 2018, I made a decision to leave the national team and chose a coach on my own. I wasn't comfortable with how things were, and that resulted in winning the world title last year. From there on, we don't only have one goal. You can be world champion; you can also be Olympic champion.”

How did you feel when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed?

“It was frustrating, but on the other hand it was also in some ways a relief because I injured myself pretty badly in January. My scaphoid was dislocated and I tore some ligaments in my hand. It was going to take at least six months to recover, and that was pretty much the whole period until Tokyo. But now I have a year extra, and I'll take that time, make the best out of it and see it as an opportunity to get even better.”

As a BMX racer, what do the Olympic Games mean to you?

“For me, it means presenting our sport on the biggest platform we have, and I hope people will then notice, step by step, what the sport is and how cool it can be.”

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