Venezuela’s Stefany Hernandez’s sacrifices pay off for World BMX Championship

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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.

Dutch cycling star eyes unprecedented addition for Rio Olympics

J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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Alexandra Trusova, 15, becomes first woman to land three quadruple jumps

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Alexandra Trusova established herself as the world’s leading female figure skater … in her first senior international competition.

Trusova, the 15-year-old, two-time world junior champion from Russia, became the first woman to land three quadruple jumps in one international competition program, posting the world’s highest free skate and total scores on the early season.

Trusova previously landed three quads in the free skate at the Russian Federation’s test skates in early September.

She opened Saturday’s free skate with a quadruple Lutz, a quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination and another quad toe to run away from Japanese Olympian Kaori Sakamoto by 44.27 points. Video is here.

She won a lower-level event in Slovakia with 238.69 points, which would have beaten Japan’s top skater, Rika Kihira, and Olympic bronze medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva by more than 14 points at an event last week in Canada. However, judging panels can be more or less forgiving from event to event.

Still, Trusova established herself as a force going into next month’s Grand Prix season. She will face Kihira and Medvedeva at Skate Canada the last week of October.

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