By Lauren Edwards
Bethany Shriever made history this week by becoming the first British athlete to win gold in the BMX racing at the Tokyo Olympics. However, this remarkable 22-year-old from Finchingfield, Essex, was only able to make her medal winning dream a reality by part funding her own pathway on to Team GB.
Bethany caught the bug for BMX racing at the age of nine and quickly climbed the ranks to professional level. From 2016, she saw international success in BMX championships throughout Europe and the USA, before being crowned Junior World Champion in 2017. Following this accolade and, through her sheer hard work and determination, Bethany was soon selected for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team.
But, despite her mounting success, Bethany was delivered a huge blow when it was decided by UK Sport, in their post-Olympic 2016 funding review, that only male BMX racers would be financially supported for Tokyo 2020. Most athletes would have given up hope, but Bethany and her family decided that her journey to the top was not over yet. After taking a job as a teaching assistant at a primary school, Bethany set up a crowdfunding appeal and the support she received from her local community was phenomenal.
Bethany said: “There was no funding for girls in British cycling for a while, so I ended up working part-time as a teaching assistant and training on the side and I did this for two years. In 2019, I crowdfunded to help with Olympic qualification. I’m so grateful to those people that helped me out.
“The Go Fund Me page target was £50,000. With the money raised I was able to pay for travel to the Columbian World Cup and afford to take a coach with me. Each trip and race that we had to attend to gain points for the Tokyo qualification was really expensive, up to £5,000 per trip.”
British Cycling were informed by UK Sport that they would not be able to add more than the agreed 92 athletes to the World Class Programme. British Cycling had to then negotiate a way to restructure their funding across women’s BMX and men’s mountain biking. In a stark contrast, the Team GB rowing squad had received approximately £25 million in funding over the last five years, resulting in a return of just two medals at the Tokyo Olympics: a silver and a bronze.
Thankfully, British Cycling were able to create a support package for Bethany to move to Manchester to continue her training. But then the pandemic hit, and Bethany was forced to return home to Essex and find a way to train in lockdown. Not an easy task for a BMX racer, but she hit the gym and kept up her weight training and would have to wait an agonising 18 months until she could race again.
Bethany said: “I never thought I’d even be here so to have British Cycling believe in me and give me the opportunity to be a full-time athlete and see my potential, I’m so grateful. Without them I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today. I’ve been able to train every day and had a great support group, with my family and friends around me.”
At each Olympics we become a nation of armchair experts and a particular event often draws worldwide interest, normally a sport that is underrepresented. In previous games, diving and cycling have all become must-see moments as previously unheard-of athletes show their unwavering ambition to lead their country to the medal podium.
This year, BMX racing has captured the attention of global television audiences as they followed Bethany’s impeccable score sheet, winning all three of her semi-final races. In her incredible final race, Bethany held onto the lead throughout until the nail-biting final moments when it looked likely that Colombia’s double Olympic Champion Marian Pajón, also known as the ‘Queen of BMX’, was set to snatch the win from under Bethany.
Bethany peddled hard, with the look of sheer determination on her face, visibly screaming into her helmet as she crossed the finish line, inches in front of Pajón.
Bethany said: “I’ve kept the same mentality, the same process throughout on the track and it’s just worked. I didn’t let things get to me, I stayed calm. I knew what I had to do and just stuck to my process, and it worked. I had nothing left at the end. I left it all on the track. Right now, it feels like I’m floating around. My parents were so over the moon and in tears when I crossed the line.”
On the finish line, she was scooped up into the arms of Kye Whyte, Bethany’s BMX teammate, dubbed the ‘Prince of Peckham’ who won the silver medal in his BMX race, narrowly missing out on gold to Dutchman Niek Kimmann.
Since joining the Team GB Elite Programme squad in June 2019, Bethany has been the only woman amongst an all-male team. However, she has an obvious bond with teammate Kye and credits her fellow cyclists for making her a stronger rider. Kye has said of Bethany that she taught him to be more respectful of women and that she tells the boys off for any banter.
BMX racing is a relatively new event and was first added to the list of sporting events for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was featured again at the 2012 London Olympics and at the 2016 Rio Olympics. However, Great Britain went without a medal until this year when both Bethany and Kye made history by becoming Britain’s first ever medallists in BMX racing, with their gold and silver accomplishments.
Bethany said: “It’s absolutely insane. This has never happened before for Great Britain, we’ve made history! The fact that we are getting more exposure for the sport, especially in Great Britain is amazing. The more sharing and the more we can get it out there, it just does wonders for the sport.”
Bethany is a formidable role model, and she is determined to raise more exposure for her beloved BMX racing. Following her Olympic success, Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher personally praised Bethany’s success through Twitter with the message, ‘BMX racing at the Olympics is blowing my mind. Bethany Shriever what a ledge well done LG x’
Bethany told us: “Next for me is attending the BMX World Championships in Papendal in The Netherlands at the end of the month. Then I will be looking to the Paris Olympics as this was always in my long-term plan to qualify for as well as Tokyo. The advice I would give to any aspiring BMX racer is to get down to your local BMX track and give it a go! You can borrow a bike to start with and a helmet. And if you enjoy it, keep at it.”
As the planning goes ahead for the Paris Olympics 2024, UK Sport has been provided with a budget of £352m to invest in funding for the various sports, which is an increase of £7m from the allocated funding for Tokyo. Whichever sport reaps the most funding and whether it is divvied up fairly is now up to the powers that be. However, Bethany should feel immensely proud that she has put BMX racing on the map as a viable medal winning sport, but, more importantly, she has proved that funding for any event should be a level playing field for both women and men athletes alike.