By Chrös McDougall | Feb. 03, 2020, 12 p.m. (ET)

 

Hannah Roberts is the first American to qualify for the Olympic Games in BMX freestyle, and the Michigan teenager is coming in hot.

Roberts, an 18-year-old from the small town of Buchanan in the state’s southwest corner, has dominated BMX freestyle in recent years, but no more so than in 2019 when she won all three world cup events prior to claiming the world championship in November.

Now with only two UCI World Cups scheduled prior to the May 12 cutoff, Roberts is ensured of holding the top spot in the USA Cycling rankings and thus earning an Olympic berth. Nine women and nine men are set to compete in the inaugural Olympic BMX freestyle competition in Tokyo, with no more than two per gender from a given nation.

BMX freestyle enters the Olympic program following BMX racing, which has been an Olympic discipline since 2008.

Freestyle uses the same type of bikes as racing but athletes are judged based on their ability to perform tricks over a 60-second run. While BMX freestyle can be held in different types of venues, including on flat land or a vert ramp, the Olympic competition will take place in a park setting that includes spines, wall, box jumps and other obstacles.

Roberts started in the sport around age 9, following her cousin Brett “Mad Dog” Banasiewicz, then one of the country’s top riders. She’s since gone on to set a new standard herself. The 2019 world title was her second, following a victory at the first UCI world championships in 2017 and a third-place finish in 2018, which was part of a U.S. podium sweep. 

Along the way she also won a gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games and pioneered tricks that no other woman had done in competition.

The journey hasn’t been without some serious injury scares.

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In 2012, Roberts fell from a 6-foot ramp while practicing, breaking the T4 vertebra in her back.

That same year, Banasiewicz crashed while preparing for a competition and suffered a traumatic brain injury that required him to be placed in a medically induced coma that left him unconscious for 15 days, according to an ESPN.com story at the time.

While that injury ended his competitive career, it came after he had opened the Kitchen Skatepark in South Bend, Indiana, an indoor training facility where Roberts has long trained.

Roberts, whose hometown of Buchanan is about 30 minutes north of South Bend, started riding around on her bike again about a month after her fall, and before long she was back on her way.

“Once back on the bike I knew this was where I wanted to be,” she told USA Cycling in a 2018 Q&A.

It wasn’t long before she was one of the top riders in the sport, a National Honor Society member from Buchanan High School balancing her schoolwork as she traveled around the world competing for top honors in BMX freestyle.

Now she officially enters the Tokyo Olympic competition as the favorite to win the sport’s first Olympic gold medal, which would come eight days before her 19th birthday.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.