Funding reallocation to BMX and Mountain Biking pays off with Olympic medals

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A tweet from Liam Gallagher neatly illustrated what Beth Shriever’s Olympic BMX gold medal can mean for British Cycling.

As performance director Stephen Park was busy explaining how Friday’s double success in Tokyo – Kye Whyte took silver in the men’s race – can help cycling diversify, the former Oasis front man jumped on social media to make the point for him.

“BMX racing at the Olympics is blowing my mind,” Gallagher wrote. “Bethany Shriever what a ledge well done LG x”

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It is hard to imagine Gallagher joining the army of middle aged men in lycra spawned by the success of Sir Bradley Wiggins et al, but his reaction to the medals won by Shriever and Whyte on Friday show the doors they can open for the sport.

British Cycling’s goal coming into these Games was to diversify in more ways than one.

As usual in Olympic sport, it began with medal targets and the need to find new avenues for success as the dominance enjoyed for so long in the velodrome comes under threat.

Mountain biking and BMX – including the new freestyle events which make their Olympic debut this weekend – were the obvious opportunities, even if UK Sport did not agree, initially denying funding to the men’s mountain bike and women’s BMX for this cycle.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Day Three
Like Shriever, Tom Pidcock won gold in an event not initially awarded UK Sport funding (PA)

British Cycling’s performance director Stephen Park feared the consequences of closing those doors and successfully lobbied to reallocate funding.

The idea was that this might pay off in Paris, but Great Britain now end the opening week of these Games with gold medals in both of the disciplines.

More than that, they have new faces with which to expand the sport’s reach.

Cycling, particularly on the road and on the track, has come in for justified criticism about its lack of diversity.

But both Whyte and Shriever represent change for British Cycling.

“What we hope from a British Cycling perspective is that people can associate with a Beth Schriever or a Kye Whyte, and we’re able to broaden the diversity of the participants in cycling,” Park said.

Para cycling team announcement – Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
British Cycling performance director persuaded UK Sport to fund disciplines initially cut from the Tokyo cycle (Peter Byrne/PA)

“Whether you’re all in for the Tour de France, mountain bikes, or BMX hopefully there’s something for everyone and that draws more people in to the sport.”

Whyte’s roots in south London, where his father is a co-founder of the Peckham BMX Club that has become a honing ground for elite talent, represent a very different backstory to most other members of the Great Britain squad.

“In BMX there’s a lot of black kids coming up who are doing well,” the 21-year-old said.

“I feel like people are realising BMX is for everyone…Those kids see it as an opportunity to not be in trouble, to not roam in the streets doing silliness, they can just be riding a bike and having fun.”

His brother Tre, whose own Olympic hopes were ended when the pandemic cut short his opportunity to qualify, has now been hired by British Cycling to work in outreach projects in London.

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Selling the message becomes a lot easier when Olympic success puts the sport on the back pages.

It all offers vindication for Park following his determination to find funding for every discipline on the road to Tokyo.

“I would very much hope that from a UK Sport perspective as well as a British Cycling perspective that the idea of trying…to inspire a wider population across our society is better addressed when we’ve got people winning in the different disciplines,” he said.

“When we actually see those medals coming it allows us to join the dots of some of the things we say but are harder to show when we don’t quite get the results.”

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