Hannah Roberts is first U.S. Olympic qualifier in BMX freestyle

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Hannah Roberts, an 18-year-old world champion, is the first American to qualify for BMX freestyle’s Olympic debut.

Roberts already clinched the top spot in USA Cycling rankings come a May 12 cutoff, according to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

In November, Roberts earned her second world title in three years in BMX freestyle, a judged cycling event that was added to the Olympic program for Tokyo 2020. The Michigan native became the first woman to land a 360 tailwhip in competition.

As many as two Americans per gender can qualify for the Olympics in BMX freestyle, a sister discipline to the BMX race that debuted at the 2008 Beijing Games.

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.

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.

She ascended to the top of her high-flying event 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.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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