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Hannah Roberts, U.S. star in new Olympic event, claims another world title

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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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Alise Willoughby wins second BMX world title

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Alise Willoughby earned her second BMX world title in three years, boosting her hopes to improve on her Rio Olympic silver medal in Tokyo next year.

“Coming into this I was down in the dumps at the start of the day, I started my day on the ground,” Willoughby said, referring to a crash in an earlier round Saturday, according to USA Cycling. “You know coming into this I knew it was going to be tough with all the Europeans who have been here every week for the past year and in the rain. None of it was in my favor. I’m really happy I rose to the challenge and I can’t believe here we are.”

Willoughby, a two-time Olympian, beat 2018 World champion Laura Smulders of the Netherlands by .445 of a second in Zolder, Belgium. Two-time Olympic champion Mariana Pajon of Colombia was taken out by another rider’s crash early in the final.

Twan van Gendt and Niek Kimmann made it a Netherlands one-two in the men’s event, where no Americans made the final. Van Gendt got the hole shot, then benefited coming around the penultimate curve in the lead when riders Nos. 2-5 crashed on the rain-soaked course. Full race video is here.

Rio Olympic champion Connor Fields was eliminated in the semifinals. Fields is the lone American to earn an Olympic BMX title since the sport debuted at Beijing 2008.

Willoughby, née Post, married 2012 Olympic silver medalist Sam Willoughby of Australia on Dec. 31, 2017, two years after he suffered a training crash that temporarily left him with no feeling below his chest. He walked her down the aisle with the aid of a walker.

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Connor Fields details ‘scariest injury’ of BMX career after toughest year

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Rio Olympic BMX champion Connor Fields was “knocked out” at February’s national championships in what he called the scariest injury of his life.

“I hit my head … and woke up strapped to a body board in an ambulance on the way to the hospital,” was posted on Fields’ social media on Sunday after he placed second at Grand Nationals in Tulsa, Okla. “When I asked what happened they told me I had a seizure on impact. I haven’t really ever been knocked out before, and when they told me that I was absolutely terrified. Couple months later I was cleared by the doctors.”

Fields, 26, did not compete at the first World Cup stop of 2018 in late March and early April after a crash at nationals. He returned to finish 14th, 15th and 34th in the next three World Cups and 29th at the world championships.

He was seventh and 12th in the last two World Cups in late September and ranks 17th in the world, down from No. 2 at the end of 2017.

“This was by far the toughest year of my career,” was posted on Fields’ social media.

In 2016, the brash Fields became the first U.S. Olympic champion in an event that debuted at the 2008 Beijing Games. He overcame a broken wrist suffered four months before Rio.

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Long post alert…..Wrapping up 2018 I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone in my corner. This was by far the toughest year of my career. After starting off feeling great and getting some good results right off the bat I had the scariest injury of my life. I hit my head at the national championships in February and woke up strapped to a body board in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. When I asked what happened they told me I had a seizure on impact. I haven’t really ever been knocked out before and when they told me that I was absolutely terrified. Couple months later I was cleared by the doctors, but it took me a while to get comfortable again and to be ready for battle, because these days elite racing is an all out war every day. I had some of my worst results I’ve ever had mid season but I kept telling myself I had to keep getting back in the ring and the breakthrough would come, and eventually it did and I finished the year off feeling stronger than I started it. I want to say thank you to all of my sponsors, @usacycling , my coach Sean Dwight, my training partners, friends, family, Laura, Brad, fans, and anyone else who supported me this year through the good times and the bad. Onwards and upwards to 2019!

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