Her event may be new to the Olympics, but Hannah Roberts is well established as one of the U.S.’ top gold-medal hopes for the Tokyo Games.
Roberts, 18, won her second world title in three years in BMX freestyle, a judged cycling event debuting at the Olympics next summer.
The Michigan native scored 90 points for the win in Chengdu, China, on Sunday, becoming the first woman to land a 360 tailwhip in competition. It capped a dominant season for Roberts, who previously won all three World Cup events.
She goes into the Olympic year leading a deep U.S. squad. Roberts earned bronze at the 2018 Worlds as part of a podium sweep with Perris Benegas and Angie Marino. A different U.S. man also earned a medal at all three editions of the world championships, which began in 2017.
Roberts ascended to the top of her high-flying sport after fracturing her T4 vertebra in a crash off a six-foot ramp when she was 10 years old. She was in a back brace for a month and unsure whether her passion for BMX would return.
“It was surprising to me that I wanted to get back on the bike,” she said, according to USA Cycling. “There was a lot of talking myself into it, but I was going crazy not being on my bike. Once back on the bike I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
Roberts could become the youngest U.S. Olympic cycling medalist since 1912 and the first teenage woman to win an Olympic cycling title from any country.
The first Olympic BMX events debuted at the 2008 Beijing Games. Those were the more traditional men’s and women’s races over undulating courses.
In BMX freestyle, athletes take 60-second runs on park courses with ramps and obstacles to show style and tricks. They are judged on categories including difficulty, originality, execution and overall flow.
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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