ZOLDER, Belgium — Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela claimed the women’s elite gold after a furious race at the World BMX Championships in rainy Zolder on Saturday.
For Hernandez, a first World title meant all the sacrifices made by her family and the frigid mornings training in France had yielded something she’d long had her sights set on.
“People watch the medals [and] the race, but they don’t look at what is behind it,” Hernandez, 24, said afterward (watch her victory from her helmet GoPro here). “I’m just happy. I feel like I deserve this win, this medal.”
Hernandez, who had third-place finishes this season at World Cups in Manchester, Great Britain, and Papendal, Netherlands, got an earlier start to the sport than most. Her mother, an avid BMX fan, started having contractions before Stefany’s birth while watching a local BMX race, and insisted she watch the end of the race before going to the hospital.
Her father once sold his car to pay for Hernandez’s fare to her first World Championships in 2001. Hernandez was unable to attend most of the World Championships as an amateur because of costs. But at 18, upon receiving funding from the Venezuelan government, she left home to train in France.
“I didn’t speak any French or any English,” she said. “I just wanted to ride my bike. My dream was to go to an Olympic Game.”
Hernandez competed at the London Games, but crashed in the semifinal, ending her chance of winning a medal. Venezuela, which has never had a female Olympic champion, earned one medal overall at the 2012 Olympics, a men’s fencing gold.
After a brief stint away from BMX, Hernandez resumed training in 2013. Her family in Venezuela has already purchased tickets for the Rio Games, Hernandez said.
“They say, ‘Even if we need to drive, we will go over there,’” she said (Venezuela borders Brazil to the northwest but is more than 2,000 miles from Rio de Janeiro, which is on the country’s southeast coast).
Hernandez is focused on landing more podium finishes in the Olympic qualifying cycle, which began in May 2014 and runs through May 2016, to earn a spot in Rio.
In the men’s elite race in Zolder, Dutch rider Niek Kimmann claimed his first World title (watch the race from his helmet GoPro).
Kimmann recently made headlines at the June World Cup in Papendal, where for the final he boldly chose lane eight, normally avoided by riders. He won and was awarded double the prize money for his efforts.
Kimmann, the junior World champion in 2014, edged countryman Jelle Van Gorkom for gold in Zolder. The defending World champion, Australia’s Sam Willoughby, crashed out.
Despite a strong field of Americans, including London Olympians Connor Fields, David Herman and Nic Long, none of the elite men made it into the eight-rider final. Brooke Crain finished just off the women’s podium in fourth, followed by Felicia Stancil in seventh.
Alise Post, who took silver in Friday’s time trial, looked solid heading into the final but tumbled off her bike while turning a corner of the rain-soaked track to place eighth. The BMX Supercross World Cup series continues in Engelholm, Sweden, in August.