Corben Sharrah admitted that the lead-up to last weekend’s UCI BMX Supercross World Cup series finale in Sarasota, Florida, was a bit unusual.
As the state braced for Hurricane Matthew, there were some questions about the wisdom of heading to an area others were contemplating leaving.
“It was definitely a little funny, with people texting me saying, ‘I don’t know if you want to be there,’” said Sharrah, 24, of Tucson, Arizona. “We didn’t know what the weather was going to be like.”
The threat had passed by race time, however, and by the end of the weekend Sharrah was the new overall world cup champion. He finished the final in 33.006 seconds to defeat two-time Olympian and 2012 gold medalist Maris Strombergs, of Latvia, who was second in 33.870. With the gold, Sharrah became the first American to win the overall standings since Connor Fields in 2013.
“It was a lot of fun and a great weekend,” Sharrah said. “I wanted to approach it like any other race and just get into the final and have a chance for the win, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Sharrah was the national BMX champion in 2011 at the age of 19, but a broken leg suffered at the world championships that year derailed his preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games and he didn’t make the team that traveled to London. Rather than immediately shift his focus to 2016, however, Sharrah chose to turn his attention to getting better and more consistent weekend after weekend.
“The four-year cycle is vicious and it’ll suck you in if you let it,” he said. “It’ll get you if that’s all you’re focusing on, year in and year out thinking you have to train, you have to be this good at this certain moment. I just wanted to enjoy every race, every moment and I think I did that coming into 2016.”
The going wasn’t always easy.
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After the injury, the top of the podium continued to elude Sharrah until this year.
In May, Sharrah won the world cup season opener in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. It was his first win since taking home the gold in the opening race of the 2011 world cup series. Then, in June, Sharrah won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to earn his trip to Rio de Janeiro.
Once there, the 24-year-old made it through a crash-filled quarterfinal that saw 2012 gold medalist Strombergs as well as defending world champion Joris Daudet, of France, dropped heading into the semifinal round. Sharrah finished fifth in his semifinal, just missing the eight-man final, and was ninth overall at the Games.
“It’s the biggest stage in the world, so racing was a bit different than the world cups and you could tell that guys were a little impatient and a little uneasy, maybe making some moves they don’t normally make and making little mistakes here and there,” Sharrah said. “Overall, though, it was a great experience for me and I really enjoyed every lap. I did the best I could. It didn’t unfold the way I would have liked, but I can’t say I’m disappointed.
“All you can do at the end of the day is believe in the work you did, and I definitely felt like I had a shot at a medal, but it didn’t happen and that’s the sport of BMX racing. Anyone could have won that race, honestly.”
Sharrah knew heading into the Games that the world cup title would soon be on the line, and he still had plenty to accomplish in the racing season. One of the things that has helped him this season, he said, and something learned over the past few years, is the importance of simply feeling comfortable on the bike. When you’re moving that fast and the jumps are coming at you in rapid succession and you have to make decisions in seconds, he said, having the right mentality is key.
“You learn that it’s not who’s lifting the most weight or going the fastest, it’s the guy out there who’s the most calm and believes in himself that’s going to go out and execute,” Sharrah said.
The first weekend in October, Sharrah returned to the world cup circuit for the first of back-to-back races on U.S. soil, the first in South Carolina, and was victorious once more. Leading the series with 630 points, he took a 115-point lead over the second-place rider, Switzerland’s David Graf, into last weekend’s final event.
Sharrah still has two more races ahead of him before he’ll close out what’s already been a memorable 2016, beginning with the USA BMX Fall Nationals at the end of the month and then the Grand Nationals in November.
And although it’s not his focus right now, Sharrah said he has thought about what might be in 2020.
“I thought about it on the flight home from Rio,” he said. “That’s something I’d like to experience again and compete in again and see what I’m able to do.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.