BMX: Willers claims silver

By Kris Shannon

Marc Willers.
Marc Willers.

Last Monday Marc Willers said the track for the BMX World Championships left him "embarrassed to be a Kiwi''.

By today that emotion was replaced with pride after Willers made the most of the track at Auckland's Vector Arena to take silver in the elite final.

With Hannah Sarten taking bronze in the junior women's elite race, a day which began with Sarah Walker crashing out of contention ended with two medals for the home fans to savour.

Willers' success was especially pleasing after he looked likely to be among the medals at the London Olympics before crashing in the semifinals. He impressed early and often during today's feature races, staying safe at the front of the field while his main rivals tumbled to the dirt one after another.

The tight and technical track may not have suited Willers' style, prompting an ill-advised tweet which raised some eyebrows, but the short opening straight unexpectedly played into his hands as he won his heat and quarter-final before finishing second in his semifinal.

With world champion Sam Willoughby crashing out of a chaotic quarter-final and Olympic gold medallist Maris Strombergs also eliminated at the same stage, the rainbow jersey was completely up for grabs in the final.

And Willers, though he erred at the starting gate, quickly latched onto the wheel of Liam Phillips and rode to silver, going one better than the third place he earned at the 2011 World Championships.

Not a bad way to end a week which got off to such an acrimonious start.

"After the last week, I wasn't sure if I was going to get boos or cheers when I was up on the gate, so it was good to get some cheers,'' Willers said. ``I said some things in the heat of the moment - the pressure was getting to me.

"I've always preferred the longer first straights and the bigger tracks because I like to get wound up. Surprisingly I managed to get out of my own way and keep it together.''

Willers revealed it could have been even better were it not for a slight mistake at the opening gate. With his track speed unquestionable, the 27-year-old backed himself to haul in Phillips, in lane one, by the crucial opening corner, but clipping the gate squashed that opportunity.

"It would have been great to get out and give [Phillips] a drag race to the first turn,'' Willers said. ``I had to make a big decision going into that second turn on whether I was going to go for the win or not, but I decided to cling to second

"It's the best position I've ever had in the worlds, so I'll take it.''

So, too, will the Kiwi team, which earlier saw their main medal hope head to hospital in the back of an ambulance. Considering Walker's absence, coach Ryan Hollows was wrapped with how the final day progressed.

"I'm very satisfied,'' he said. ``There was only four classes to have two medals was beyond expectations and I'm really happy.''

Despite Willers enduring an injury-plagued season on the US circuit, Hollows said he never doubted the rider's capability to produce a result on home soil.

"It's not a surprise - it's full credit to the athlete Marc is. He's worked really hard in the last month to bring that form back, so it's really pleasing to see.''

With Willers one of the older heads among the New Zealand team, Hollows said the future of the sport safe in the hands of the likes of Sarten, Kurt Pickard and Trent Jones.

"I'm very optimistic. It was a real breakthrough week for BMX in New Zealand.''

- APNZ

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