Olympics: Willers impresses in BMX quarters

By Dylan Cleaver

New Zealand BMX rider Marc Willers has qualified impressively for the semifinals of his event at the London Olympics. Photo / Mark Mitchell NZ Herald
New Zealand BMX rider Marc Willers has qualified impressively for the semifinals of his event at the London Olympics. Photo / Mark Mitchell NZ Herald

When Marc Willers took his place in the gate for his first heat in the early hours of this morning, his nerves all came along "in a big whack".

That's quite an admission for a BMXer. These guys don't just bleed, they "bleed rad-ness", so reckoned the stadium announcer. They're "gladiators" says New Zealand coach Ken Cools.

Gladiators don't get nervous, surely?

All year Willers has trained to start fast out of the gate and win the first straight. He did that. Just as well. Taking place right behind him was a BMX version of seven-pin bowling.

Every other rider went down in a screaming heap. Willers cruised home unopposed to win.

"It actually all fell my way in that first race," he said, aware of the literal interpretation of that statement. "It was it was good to have that first cruisey lap to take care of those nerves and start again."

Willers looked in dominant form, with a first, second and first placing meaning he required only three crash-strewn quarterfinal heats to advance to tomorrow's three semifinal heats. If he makes it through those in the top four - and early indications suggest he should - he will be in the one-off final.

His compatriot Kurt Pickard was not so lucky. He was on target to advance to the second round until a massive crash in his third heat meant he could take no further part.

"He's lost a lot of 'bark'," was the BMX medical assessment of his state of health. He was going back to the athletes' village to be assessed by team doctor Lynne Coleman but his wounds are thought to be of the scrapes and bruises variety rather than the breaks and cuts.

"The kid's a gladiator," Cools said. "Yesterday he crashed in warm-up, he tweaked his ankle and today when he woke up he could barely walk, so for him to put those two laps in like he did before his crash... he's one of the toughest kids I know."

Pickard's Olympic dream is over, Willers' is very much alive. Cools said when Willers is "on point" he is the man to be in the field.

"Marc is on point right now, he's on form. He's been here and he's got that experience. He's leading from the get-go and when you're out in front you limit the amount of carnage you can get yourself into," he said.

The 26-year-old won the Olympic test event and likes the track. His strategy is simple, burst out of the gate and have your nose in front at the first corner so he doesn't get involved in the melee behind.

"From there I just try to hold on and take up as much of the track as I can so no-one can get past."

Willers has the toughest of the semifinal draw. He will start heat one in lane four, in a who's who of BMX that includes the super-quick Joris Daudet (France), world champion Sam Willoughby (Australia) and Latvian Maris Strombergs, defending Olympic champion.

"They definitely found a way to get all the fast guys into one semifinal," Willers said.

The US-based rider might not have those titles, but he does have one other thing on his side: fate.

As he was assessing his race, a blue rubber bracelet he was wearing snapped and fell to the ground.

"I put this wrist band on the day I had shoulder surgery, nearly three years ago. It says 'Stay Strong', so there we go; I guess it's saying I'm strong enough for tomorrow."

- NZ Herald

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