MELBOURNE, June 28 (Reuters) - Australia’s roads and velodromes have proved a fertile breeding ground for world-beating cyclists, but Caroline Buchanan is determined to show her country that Olympic glory can rise from the mud of a suburban BMX track.
The feisty 21-year-old from Australia’s capital of Canberra is ranked second in the world in women’s BMX after a breakout year in which she clinched her first global title at the Birmingham world championships in May.
The rider nicknamed ‘Cannonball’ will compete in the high-octane X-sport’s second Olympic tournament after its controversial debut at the Beijing Games.
Derided as a “punk kid” sport by its detractors, BMX’s inclusion into the exclusive Olympic club was aimed at reigniting the interest of young people, who are likely to be more interested in modern sports than traditional Olympic disciplines such as fencing and archery.
Its inclusion infuriated Australian track cycling officials, who bemoaned the loss of time trial events in the Olympic velodrome to make way for the upstart’s debut.
Buchanan will be at the forefront of BMX’s ongoing battle for credibility at Olympic Park’s dirt track from Aug. 8-10, where she hopes to carve out her own niche among national cycling icons including Tour de France champion Cadel Evans and track queen Anna Meares.
“A lot of people don’t really know much about BMX and there’s a lot of spotlight on other sports like swimming and athletics,” Buchanan told Reuters in a telephone interview before boarding a plane to the United States for a warm-up competition in Salt Lake City.
“What they may not realise is that we’re ranked number one in both women and men’s BMX. We’ve got a very competitive and focused team that is also still very young.”
Buchanan is one of the strongest medal contenders among Australia’s full quota of five riders at London, which includes the sport’s top-ranked male in 20-year-old Sam Willoughby.
All will debut at London and most have enjoyed success at recent World Cup events. The Games is another step up in pressure for Buchanan, who won the non-Olympic title in Birmingham but tasted bitter disappointment in the event’s Olympic race.
Buchanan held the world’s top ranking going into the Olympic category event, but her race-day preparations were interrupted by a doping test in the early hours of the morning and she ended up crashing out of the semi-finals after drawing the outside lane on the entry gate.
The deflating finish saw her lose her top ranking to Frenchwoman Magalie Pottier and left the self-confessed adrenalin junkie smarting to make amends.
Buchanan said it had made her even hungrier for gold in London.
“I’m certainly not content to just go ever there and wear the tracksuit.
“Same for our team whole team. We’re all fit and our expectations are high.”
Buchanan followed her brother into the sport and was competing in her first BMX events at the age of five, but like Cadel Evans and many other top riders, cut her teeth in the rough and tumble of mountain bike racing.
She won back-to-back world titles in the four-cross category of mountain biking in 2009-10 before devoting herself to BMX to represent her country on the biggest stage of all.
“I think I’m lucky in that regard ... I’m an athlete that thrives on pressure, and loves the big crowd and the spotlight,” said Buchanan.
“I was the local home-town girl for my first mountain biking world championship in Canberra. I was favourite and there were 10,500 spectators on the hill cheering my name and I managed to pull that off.
“So I just can’t wait to get to London to wear the Olympic uniform and to see the walls of people at the track and hear the noise.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford