BMX Nats: Sakakibara seeks more than title defence after concussion-marred year


It’s been a tumultuous year for Australia’s BMX racing champion.

But for Saya Sakakibara, a return to racing at the AusCycling National Championships in Launceston will give her the chance not only to regain her crown, but to also reconnect with her home community.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to show my face and be able to talk and connect with other riders and kids and BMX people. That’s something I’m really looking forward to and value just as much as, if not even more than, defending my title,” the 23-year-old said in an interview with AusCycling.

It’s safe to say 2022 has been an up-and-down season for the Tokyo Olympian. After earning a UCI World Cup podium place in Glasgow, she suffered a concussion in the next World Cup round and has been away from competition since.

“It’s a really hard injury to manage, because you can’t see it,” Sakakibara said.

“The only person that can give feedback is yourself, so if you don’t know what you’re looking out for, it’s really easy to miss or you kind of block it out. I’ve had multiple concussions already, so it’s just understanding that sometimes it requires more than just rest, and that’s what I did this time.”

Not leaving her recovery to chance, Sakakibara sought expert treatment from the Swiss Concussion Centre in Zürich, which has yielded positive results.

“I saw the improvements on paper from day one to the last day, and could take confidence in that, and say, ‘OK, I’m healed.’

“My priority was to get my head right, and knowing that multiple concussions could lead to long-term effects that we don’t know about. I just had that bigger picture in mind.”

Sakakibara has now returned to Sydney and is working her way back to a full training regime. Her focus has shifted to competing against Australia’s next generation of talent in Launceston.

“I know there’s some younger girls coming up, which is really exciting. They’re all showing a lot of good potential, like Teya Rufus, Bella May, and Sienna Pal. They are some of the riders I need to look out for in the Superclass. They’re also all in the Development Team working with Sam (Willoughby), which is really cool.”

After such a challenging year, the desire to wear the national champion’s colours again will be front of mind when the gates drop.

“Last year was my first time winning the elite title, and it was definitely nice. It’s always really cool to have the national sleeve for the following year, so I really took pride in that, and I definitely feel like I want to do that again. I’m going to be doing my best out there.”

Who to watch for in Launceston

Sakakibara will likely be race favourite ahead of Erin Lockwood and Gemma-Lee Thomas in the Elite Women’s category, but with Izaac Kennedy not attending Nationals, favouritism in the Elite Men’s falls to Bodi Turner, with Matt Krasevskis and Max Cairns also podium contenders.

Defending Junior Elite champions Tahlia and Joel Marsh should again feature prominently in their respective categories, while Georgia Potter, Bella May, Tucker Thomas, and TJ and Jesse Asmus are also riders to watch.

In the Superclass Women’s, Teya Rufus has shown strong form throughout her first year since graduating from juniors. She’s won multiple rounds in the AusCycling BMX National Cup and built a handy lead over Gemma-Lee Thomas in the standings.

The Junior Superclass Women’s could hardly be any closer, with just a handful of points separating Charli Guy, Mia Webster, and Lauren Winter.

The Superclass Men’s looks destined to be fought out between Matty Tidswell and Alex Cameron. The pair split first and second results between them in the last two National Cup rounds, with Tidswell holding a narrow lead in the standings ahead of the final round.

16-year-old phenom Josh Jolly has competed strongly in both the Superclass Men’s and Junior Superclass Men’s throughout the year, and should almost be a lock for both titles in his age bracket, while Amelie Reid finished first in all but one of the five races at the Mighty 11s Trans-Tasman cup in New Zealand recently.

View the AusCycling BMX National Cup standings here.

2021 AusCycling BMX Racing National Champions:

  • Elite Women: Saya Sakakibara
  • Elite Men: Izaac Kennedy
  • Junior Elite Women: Tahlia Marsh
  • Junior Elite Men: Joel Marsh
  • Superclass Women: Saya Sakakibara
  • Superclass Men: Izaac Kennedy
  • Junior Superclass Women: Teya Rufus
  • Junior Superclass Men: Flynn Sweeney

AusCycling BMX Racing National Championship

  • Location: Launceston, Tasmania
  • Dates: Monday, 21 November - Sunday, 27 November 2022
  • Host Club: Launceston BMX

More information about the 2022 AusCycling BMX Racing National Championships.

The 2022 AusCycling BMX Racing National Championships is proudly supported by Events Tasmania and the City of Launceston.

Photo: Get Snapt

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