Willoughby shows form in Rio.
The contrast was huge between yesterday's single rider seeding runs on the BMX track in Rio and today's quarterfinal racing with 8 athletes on the gate in each heat. A strong tailwind on the first straight caused for some overshooting on the doubles and even the triple going into the first turn. The head wind made it tough to clear the pro section jumps but it wasn't easy for the riders to slow down and play it safe. This was the race they'd been looking forward to and backing down wasn't an option. Four out of eight athletes would make it out of each heat and transfer to tomorrow's semi finals.
Jelle van Gorkom (NED) looked good in heat one. The Dutchman won the first two rounds and could play it safe in round three to transfer. He scored a total of 6 points. Behind him though a big battle was fought for the last transfer spot. Trent Jones (NZL) was safe but Nic Long (USA) needed a good score with 9 points heading in the last lap. He made it happen by finishing first. UCI BMX World Champions Joris Daudet (FRA) and Niek Kimmann (NED) had a nasty crash in the 2nd moto and had not gathered a lot of points. Also Edzus Treimanis (LAT) was aiming for the last spot but it was Kimmann who was the fortunate one by transfering with 14 points.
The action wasn't less dramatic in heat two. Favourite Liam Phillips (GBR) crashed out on lap one and did not start after that. His Olympic Games were over before it had really started. Biggest surprise was that 2-time Olympic gold medalist Maris Strombergs (LAT) did not transfer with a 6-4-4. That meant two potential podium finishers were already out. David Graf (SUI) finished second in the Seeding Run yesterday but two bad finishes (13 points total) meant that he needed a win in the last moto to potentially make it to the semi final. He did and grabbed the fourth spot behind Tory Nyhaug (CAN), Luis Brethauer (GER) and Jefferson Milano (VEN).
Heat 3. After moto one, only 6 riders started in the last two heats. Amidou Mir (FRA) and Alfredo Campo (ECU) were injured. The wind and the side by side action was taking its toll in Rio on the spectacular track with huge jumps. Sam Willoughby (AUS) didn't seem to have a problem with any of it as he rode to three victories as the only rider to do so all day. The snap out of the gate is always there for Sam and he's got the bike control and determination to get out there and not give up. Twan van Gendt (NED) kept him honest on the first straight the last two laps but Sam did not give in and showed he's on a mission in Rio. Other transfer spots in heat 3 went to Colombians Carlos Oquendo and Carlos Ramirez.
The only heat with no crashes in Rio was number four. Australian Anthony Dean has the power out of the gate and the first straight but looks rather sketchy on the jumps. A 2-1-1 score was up there so expect Dean to be strong in Friday's semi final also. Americans Connor Fields and Corben Sharrah also made it through making it three riders for the United States in tomorrow's program, together with Nic Long. The last spot went to Gonzalo Molina from Argentina whose 3-2-5 was very respectable and will have the Argentineans watch the games with excitement when they start.
It cannot be denied that BMX isn't action packed but Maris Strombergs, Joris Daudet and Liam Phillips would have hoped for a little less drama in Rio. Someone's loss is someone else's gain.