You can never count Justin Dowell out.
The reigning BMX freestyle world champion was in 10th place after the semifinals on Saturday at the second UCI World Cup event of the season in Montpellier, France. He wasn’t even the top American. That was teammate Daniel Sandoval, who sat in fifth behind three Australian riders and one from Japan.
But in Sunday’s final, Dowell, 19, was on fire. The top-ranked rider in the world, Dowell scored a 91.20 to claim the gold medal ahead of Russia’s Irek Rizaev with a score of 90.00. Australia’s Martin Logan rounded out the top three with a score of 89.30.
Dowell finished seventh in the season opener in Hiroshima, Japan, last month. His win on Sunday makes it a double victory for the U.S. this weekend after Hannah Roberts’ triumph in the women’s event on Saturday. The men had two other riders finish in the top seven. Nick Bruce finished fourth with a score of 87.20 and Dowell was seventh with an 83.80.
They are among the athletes hoping to represent the U.S. when the sport makes its Olympic debut just over a year from now in Tokyo.
BMX racing has been included on the Olympic schedule since 2008, but 2020 will be the first year for BMX freestyle, in which riders traverse a terrain park performing tricks off rails, jumps and other features. The qualification period for earning quota spots began in November 2018 and lasts through May 11, 2020.
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.