Aussie Focus

Australian Olympic cycling dream plagued by injury

Crashes overnight for Olympic hopefuls Amanda Spratt, Grace Brown and Lucas Hamilton are just the tip of the iceberg for what has been an Olympic preparation beset by injury for the Australian Cycling Team.

A mass crash at the Tour de France, reportedly caused by some gravel on the road saw Lucas Hamilton unable to continue at the French Grand Tour, last seen with his arm in a sling at the medical truck after the stage finish. There's no further medical update at this time. 

Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown went down hard into a gutter after teammate Georgia Williams crashed in the latter stages of the Giro Rosa. Spratt is set to continue the Italian race, but Brown had to abandon after sustaining some gashes and muscle damage to her shoulder, looking to recover for her chance at the time trial and road race.

“It was quite unfortunate that three of us came down in a crash today and we’re all a bit cut up and bruised," she said after the stage. "Personally, I’m fine, but I’ve hurt the muscle in my shoulder, and I have some quite deep cuts that need to heal.

"I’m looking to be in good shape for the Tokyo Olympics and that’s my priority now, so I want to rest up so I can be good for that.”

Much of the rest of Australia's road team is also facing its own setbacks, Jack Haig crashed out of the Tour and broke his collarbone during Stage 3. He had surgery, which should quicken up the recovery process depending upon the severity, but ultimately a three and a half week turnaround between the crash and the Tokyo Olympics will be a very short one.

Sarah Gigante will represent Australia in the time trial and the road race, but the fan-favourite has had to pull out of some of the key events of the season, La Course and the Giro Rosa after suffering a fractured collarbone, elbow and fibula at Fleche Wallonne. Her preparation is all about the Olympics, but she said in an interview with SBS Cycling Central three weeks ago that her training was, at that stage, more about getting back to where she used to be rather than hitting new heights. 

Lucy Kennedy is another that many expected to be in the squad for the Olympics, but wasn't in the picture for selection after fracturing her hand, eye socket and collarbone during Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Her recovery was long and arduous, it's just good to see her back on the road with a smile.

In other disciplines, the news hasn't been much better. Reigning BMX Freestyle Park world champion Brandon Loupis landed a spectacular trick perfectly normally during his first run at the world championships, but ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in a freak outcome. Australia didn't qualify two athletes for Tokyo despite compatriot Logan Martin winning the event and it ended up a sad moment for the 2018 and 2019 world champion.

In BMX racing, long-term injuries for Caroline Buchanan and Kai Sakakibara have seen the pair, who would have been considered near-certainties to make the team, watching and recovering with others taking their spots in the Tokyo squad. 

The eight-time world champion, Buchanan, was involved in an off-road buggy crash which left her with a broken nose and sternum, and two collapsed lungs. So serious was the incident that it was life-threatening and she spent four days in intensive care before beginning the long road to rehabilitation. She made a last-ditch bid to secure selection to the Tokyo Games with a dash to Verona for the UCI BMX World Cup event, but finished 15th of 16 in the final, deemed not enough by selectors to secure a spot on the team.

She has since quit BMX racing, with her focus shifting to mountain bike. She is also a brand ambassador for Trek, Boost mobile and NutriGrain, no one could say that not making an Olympics squad will define her.

Sakakibara suffered a crash during the 2020 Bathurst BMX World Cup event and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was flown immediately to hospital and connected to a heart monitor, blood pressure monitor, respirator and brain pressure monitor as he was placed into a medical coma. His road to recovery has been inspirational, ticking off each bit of progress talking to walking to even riding a full circuit of a BMX track the other day. 

Buchanan and Sakakibara's stories are remarkable ones of survival and comeback, they shouldn't just be reduced to whether or not they are going to the Olympics, but they can't be ignored from this story as athletes of that calibre. Kai will have the chance to cheer on sister Saya at the Olympics as she represents Australia.

On the track, it hasn't been the same narrative of injury, but the men's endurance team will certainly miss the presence of Cameron Meyer. The West Australian multiple world on the track and reigning national champion withdrew from the Olympics to be with his family as his father battles brain cancer.

As the Meyer, Sakakibara and Buchanan stories represent, health is always more important than any potential Olympics appearance, but for many chasing the prestigious goal of an Olympics berth has been a lifelong goal, and to see it snatched away by the misfortune and random chance of injury is heartbreaking. 

Australia's Olympic team will be ably represented by those that have been selected in their stead, and do Australians proud, but those that won't be there are just as inspirational.

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5 min read
Published 10 July 2021 at 5:57am
By Jamie Finch-Penninger