Saya and Kai, find themselves atop a podium at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Australia should be doubly thankful. They could just as easily have been competing for the host nation. Olympic BMX Racing Enthusiasts from all over the world can book summer Olympic BMX Racing Tickets online from our one of the most trusted online ticketing market place.
Before Great Britain, for that matter. Such was the dilemma for the rising BMX stars, whose childhoods spanned Australia, then Japan, while their English father added a third option once their talents became apparent.
They will both compete in the opening stage of the 2019 BMXA BAD BOY National Series at Sydney BMX Club (Olympic Park) from Saturday and that’s just the start of a demanding season that could propel them towards being one of the nation’s better medal prospects in Tokyo.
Already, Saya is ranked two in the world after moving up into the elite ranks of the sport following a dominant junior career that saw her sweep to five world titles. Now 19, she aims to build on her first full year of professional racing and is just starting to scratch the surface of her talents with Tokyo less than 18 months away.
Kai, 22, had a steadier start to his professional career but has steadily charted a course up the rankings and now sits eighth. A World Cup medal sits atop his to-do list in 2019 and he presents as another valuable cycling asset for the Australians at the 2020 Games.
It could have easily been very different. The pair, now based in Wollongong, was born on the Gold Coast, where Kai first found himself unleashing on a BMX track when aged just four. It was then the pair moved to Tokyo, where they stayed for six years, before returning in 2007.
Once you make it to elite racing levels of BMX, you must decide by 17 which country you will represent. Kai was up first.
“The first World Championships we both did, we were still living in Japan and representing Japan,” Kai said. “(But) when I turned 17, I made a decision to race for Australia.
“I was living in Australia again then, had an Australian accent, had Australian friends and was immersed in the Australian BMX scene. It made sense to me.”
Saya was next but her immense talent created something of a tug-of-war for her services. Olympic medals don’t grow on trees so when Federations spot a star, they were always going to make a significant play.
“At that point, I had to make the decision. Kai had already chosen Australia. My dad told me that just because he had done that, didn’t mean I had to do that as well,” Saya said.
“I went through the same process, researching and talking to everyone, I had the choice of Japan and Australia and Great Britain. I had meetings with all of those Federations and it was a long process.”
“But for me, like Kai, I felt the most comfortable in Australia. Our parents live here, I was born here and my friends are here. Most of my fans are here to… I knew I would feel most comfortable representing Australia.”
BMX first made an appearance as an Olympic sport in Beijing in 2008, where Saya first remembers watching it on television. Australia has one medal, a silver to Sam Willoughby in 2012, and had high hopes in Rio before world number one Caroline Buchanan crashed in heartbreaking scenes in the semis.
It was a low point on a below-par Games for the cycling team, which is why a pair of talents like the Sakakibara’s were of obvious interest to the Australians as they try to rebound in Tokyo.
Both Saya and Kai have put their focus on a hard season of racing through Europe and the US but as for any athlete in contention, the Olympics are quickly creeping onto the horizon.
“I was eight and looking up at the TV and thinking ‘this is so cool’. It was something I really wanted to do. Back then it was just a dream… it’s crazy now,” Saya said.
“It’s less than two years away now and we’re in contention for it. It’s crazy to think that’s what we are preparing for now.”
Saya’s first BMX race as a child ended in tears. She crashed three times and didn’t get back on her bike for three months. It’s already proving to be the best decision of her life.
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