She flies through the air for two seconds, does a backflip atop her BMX bicycle and lands cleanly on the ground.
This is one of many spectacular tricks that BMX freestyler Nikita Ducarroz and her eight competitors performed on the sport’s debut as an Olympic competition in Tokyo. The riders each had one minute in the park, with its various ramps and pipes. After two rounds, the judges awarded their scores and declared a winner. Ducarroz came third with 89.20 points.
“I am very happy. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve this,” she told DW afterward, proudly wearing her Olympic medal around her neck.
Nikita Ducarroz receives her bronze medal in Tokyo
That Ducarroz, a Swiss rider born in France but living in the United States, is competing in Tokyo at all is astonishing. She has suffered from fears, panic attacks and depression since childhood.
“BMX saved my life,” she says. “My condition worsened gradually, starting probably when I was five or six years old. At one point, I couldn’t leave the house.”
After a while, the competitive youngster stopped taking part in sport, stopped going to school and stopped seeing friends. When she was 14, Ducarroz saw a BMX freestyle video on YouTube and was immediately fascinated.
“I could do it right outside my house, I didn’t have to go anywhere for it,” she recalls. “Luckily, I fell in love with the sport and used that passion to face my fears.”
Ducarozz uses her social media presence to talk about mental health
She soon dared to leave the house in order to visit a skate park. There, she signed up for her first BMX competition. After that, she even got on a plane.
“I slowly did more and more, and now I’m here,” she says, though she admits she still has panic attacks sometimes: “I’ve learned to deal with them over time though.”
In the second and final round in Tokyo, while performing a simple trick called the 360, Ducarroz makes an error while spinning in the air. On landing, her weight is too far to the left and she falls to the floor. She picks herself up, briefly massages her left knee and waves to the trainers, coaches and journalists in the Ariake Urban Sports Park. She finishes her second round early.
It was one of several falls at the women’s BMX freestyle final, but each rider can choose whether to leave the park immediately or continue riding to the end of their allotted time. The risk of injury on a BMX bike is high.
Bronze medalist Nikita Ducarroz competing the women’s BMX Freestyle final
“Fear? I always have that,” Ducarroz admits. “But really only before it starts. Once I begin, I’m so focused that I hardly think about it.”
Ducarroz moved from her parents’ home in Glen Ellen on the west coast of the US to Holly Springs on the east coast just over a year ago. There, she trains at the Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex, the largest action sports training center in the world. It was a smart move; she is now ranked second in the world.
In Holly Springs she trains regularly with the American rider Hannah Roberts, currently ranked the world’s best BMX freestyler and the silver medalist in Tokyo.
“Fear, that’s a topic we female riders often talk about with each other. It affects all of us, Nikita of course very differently to us,” Roberts told DW before the second round in Tokyo. “It’s great how she deals with it when the panic attacks start. I learn a lot from her.”