Beth Shriever and Kye Whyte provide game-changing moment for BMX

Beth Shriever and Kye Whyte made BMX history for Great Britain on Friday morning as they delivered gold and silver medals at the Ariake Urban Sports Park.

Pedal power: Bethany Shriever and Kye Whyte celebrate their gold and silver medals respectively in the Cycling BMX Racing at the Ariake Urban Sports Park.

Moments after Whyte won Britain’s first medal in the event since its introduction to the Olympic programme in 2008, taking silver behind Dutchman Niek Kimmann, Shriever led almost from start to finish to claim a superb gold in the women’s race.

As the 22-year-old collapsed in tears a jubilant Whyte scooped her up and held her aloft in celebration.

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“I’m more happy for her than I am for me,” said Whyte. “That girl puts in some serious serious graft.”

Both Londoners have taken a long road to get to this point.

Whyte, 21, grew up in south London, where his father was a co-founder of the Peckham BMX Club which sought to steer youngsters away from gang culture and crime.

Shriever, from Leytonstone, dropped out of British Cycling’s programme in 2017 after UK Sport had announced there would be no funding for women’s BMX in this Olympic cycle.

But her coaches saw the potential in the 2017 junior world champion and, at a time when they were keen to diversify Britain’s medal opportunities, persuaded the agency to let them reassign funds.

It was still an uphill battle – Shriever worked as a teaching assistant and also used crowdfunding to keep going before being brought back on to the programme in the summer of 2019 – but on Friday the journey ended with Olympic gold.

The only woman in Britain’s elite programme was the class of the Olympic field.

BMX can be an unpredictable affair, a game of jeopardy as British Cycling’s performance director Stephen Park described it, but Shriever made it look simple.

Having won all three races in her semi-final, she almost led from the start of the final and held off a late charge from defending champion Mariana Pajon of Colombia down the finishing straight to win by nine hundredths of a second.

“I’m just in bits,” said the Londoner said.

“I tried my hardest out there today and to be rewarded with a gold medal is honestly mind-blowing.

“I kept my cool today, kept it simple, and it worked. I’m over the moon.”

Shriever’s gold came just after Whyte had raced to silver to secure Britain’s first BMX medal.

Having suffered with slow starts in qualifying and during the semi-final, Whyte nailed it in the final and went into the first corner in second behind Kimmann – racing only days after hitting an official on track in a frightening crash – and held station to the finish.

“I just came out of the gate, and I didn’t expect it but in the back of my head I kept telling myself I was going to get a medal,” said Whyte.

“I didn’t deserve it any more than any of the other riders but I put my head to it and I got a medal.”

Whyte began his celebrations by a TV screen showing a link to the party taking place back in Peckham.

“I couldn’t even speak,” he said. “You know when you get that little crying voice? I couldn’t speak holding back the tears.”

This double success, following on from Tom Pidcock’s mountain bike gold on Monday, gives British Cycling quick results in its bid to look beyond the velodrome at these Games.

The bid to diversify goes beyond mere medals. Mountain biking and BMX – both the racing and freestyle which will make its Olympic debut today – offer an opportunity to expand to new audiences and new communities.

Liam Gallagher helped them do just that, with the former Oasis frontman posting on Twitter: “BMX racing at the Olympics is blowing my mind” and “Bethany Shriever what a ledge well done LG x”

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. They both 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,” said Park.

“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 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 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 bid to qualify, has now been hired by British Cycling to work in outreach projects in London. 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 that the idea of trying to inspire a wider population across our society is better addressed with people winning in the different disciplines,” he said.