|Oct 16||Remembering #KB88|
Three-time world champion, 2008 U.S. Olympian, #88 in the starting block, Kyle Bennett had a smooth style on the bike that made him look as if he were flowing around the BMX track. He didn’t sharply jerk his bike from side to side like some riders. He made it look effortless. Like butter.
At 2:16 a.m. Sunday morning, Butter — as KB was known — flowed no more. The 33-year-old BMX legend died in a single-car accident in his hometown of Conroe, Texas. According to the Montgomery County Police Reporter, information at the scene indicated he was likely driving to help his fiancé, Lynsie Argenti, after she called to say someone had broken into her car where she worked. Bennett’s 2006 Toyota Tundra truck left the highway for unknown reasons, traveled through a ditch, struck a culvert pipe, crashed through a wrought-iron gate, uprooted several trees, and landed on its roof on a residential lawn. Rescue personnel determined that Bennett, who was not wearing a seatbelt, died at the scene.
Bennett left behind Argenti, a four-year-old daughter Kylie, and a tight-knit community of BMX riders stunned by his loss.
To them, Bennett was more than a three-time world champion and Olympian. He was, as Mike King, USA Cycling’s BMX program director, put it, “a great person.”
“Take away all of his accolades and he was still an amazing person,” echoed 2012 Olympian Connor Fields, who started racing BMX when Bennett was dominating the sport and “was everyone’s, including my, hero.”
“He was always so gracious and always had time for the kids,” continued Fields, who just turned 20. “He inspired my generation of BMXers.”
Bennett was born on September 25, 1979, in Conroe, a city of about 59,000 people set in the pine woods 40 miles north of Houston. When he was seven, his grandfather took him to the Armadillo BMX track in Conroe for his first race. His grandparents also set up a BMX course in their backyard so young Bennett could practice. It paid off. During the summer of 1988, he won his first national championship.
Inspired by his stepfather, John Purse, a BMX pro and 1997 world champion who helped him train, Bennett turned pro after graduating from high school. In 2002, on his first trip out of the country, he won the UCI BMX World Championships in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
He successfully defended the world title in 2003 and won it for the third time in 2007, a year after knee surgery to reconstruct a torn ACL. In 2008, Bennett was the top-ranked athlete in USA Cycling’s BMX ratings, so he earned an automatic nomination to the U.S. Olympic BMX squad.
Favored to medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Bennett crashed in the quarterfinals and separated his shoulder. He advanced to the semis based on combined times from earlier heats but did not qualify for the finals.
He continued to race after the 2008 Olympics and found success in domestic races, winning two national-level races in 2010.
“When Kyle Bennett got on the start gate, people knew he was on the gate and could be considered for a win lap after lap,” said King.
Bennett hoped to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team but realized it was going to be much harder than he imagined, said King. He was in the twilight of his BMX racing career and had talked to King about the crossroads he was approaching.
Coaching would have been a natural career segue for the rider who already led summer camps and clinics. Just a week ago, Bennett gave an evening clinic at Armadillo BMX. In July 2012, on Armadillo BMX’s Olympic Day, the track had been renamed after Bennett.
“A lot of younger athletes looked up to him not only for his accomplishments but for the way he rode and the way he was as an adult male athlete,” said King.
As Fields quickly climbed the pro ranks, he grew to know Bennett as a teammate on both Team USA and the Free Agent BMX trade team.
“He was so helpful and welcoming, never making you feel as if he was better than you or like you didn't deserve to be there,” said Fields. “He took me under his wing and was always offering me advice.”
Fields also liked his attitude, calling Bennett the opposite of a stereotypical athlete: “He was so laid back and happy. He never seemed to have a care in the world and always had a smile on his face, regardless of if he won or got last, and that's why everyone loved him. He had a contagious smile and a goofy way about him that just made everything feel more lighthearted and fun.”
Bennett’s death left everyone in shock, including his 2008 Olympic teammates Mike Day and Donny Robinson. Calling Bennett “the best to ever do it,” Day tweeted a photo of the three standing on the 2008 Olympic BMX course in Beijing.
Robinson tweeted, “I cry when I’m awake, then I try to sleep it off and I cry in my dreams. I can’t escape the fact it’s real, Bennie …”
On Sunday night, about 500 people attended a candlelight vigil at the Kyle Bennett Armadillo BMX Park.
Then on Monday, the UCI BMX commission announced that it would retire Bennett’s number, 88.
“That in itself kind of gives you an idea what his passing has meant to our sport,” said King. “It’s definitely a tragic and big loss for a lot of these kids that want to be the next Kyle Bennett and to say that they got to meet him or speak with him or were at one of his clinics. That’s going to have a lasting affect to any kid coming through the program.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.