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Worthington tops Roberts in BMX freestyle Olympic debut

Top-seeded Roberts had a chance to top the Brit but landed hard off an early jump and waved off the rest of her second run.

TOKYO, Japan — Britain’s Charlotte Worthington put on a show in BMX freestyle’s Olympic debut, leading the first 360 backflip in women’s competition to knock off American Hannah Roberts Sunday at the Tokyo Games.

Roberts, a three-time world champion at age 19, set the bar in her opening run, landing a backflip with a tailspin for a 96.1.

Worthington crashed on her first run but pulled out all the stops in her second. The 25-year-old added a front flip to her 360 backflip and closed with another backflip for a 97.5.

Roberts, the top seed, had a chance to top the Brit, but she landed hard off an early jump and waved off the rest of her second run.

Nikita Ducarroz of Switzerland took bronze with an 89.2 in her second run.

BMX freestyle’s rim-wrecking roots were planted in the flying action-sports carnival of the X Games in the 1990s, and later in offshoots like the Dew Tour and Gravity Games.

BMX racing, freestyle’s cousin, has been in the Olympics since the 2008 Beijing Games. Freestyle continued soaring until it had to be included, too.

Freestyle took a huge leap forward – with a twist, of course – when it came under the umbrella of the Union Cycliste International in 2016, further legitimizing the sport and giving the top riders a place to compete on a World Cup circuit.

The first BMX freestyle championships were held in 2017 – won by Roberts and Logan Martin of Australia – and the sport was added to the Olympic program later that year with surfing, sport climbing, 3-on-3 basketball, skateboarding and karate.

Credit: AP
Charlotte Worthington of Britain competes in the women's BMX freestyle final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

BMX freestyle, also known as BMX park, certainly has the eye appeal to be a big hit with riders flipping, twisting and spinning their handlebars on a course that’s like an oversized skate park.

The vernacular is pretty rad, too, with ordinary words and phrases that mean something different in the park: superman, truck driver, toboggan.

Roberts has dominated the sport at a young age, winning three of the first four world championships and three World Cup titles — she won everything in 2019 — by the time she turned 19.

The difference between Roberts and the rest of the world: She goes bigger and lands more dynamic moves than anyone else.

She showed it off in her first run at Ariake Urban Sports Park, landing a backflip with a bar spin, a double tailwhip and another backflip off the back wall.

Roberts set the bar with a 96.1 in that opening run, nearly seven points more than her closest competitor.

But the Olympic stage brought out the best in the world’s top riders.

Worthington, who crashed in her first run, pulled off the backflip 360 first, added a front flip and closed with another backflip to pass Roberts.

Roberts had one last chance to top the Brit, but she landed hard on an early jump and waved off the rest of her second run.

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