Each Tuesday leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will be held in the summer of 2021, TeamUSA.org will introduce you to an athlete you should know prior to Tokyo – as part of the “Tokyo Tuesday” series. There’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Follow along on social media with the hashtag #TokyoTuesday.
At 18 years old, Hannah Roberts has already won two BMX freestyle world titles and is a favorite to win gold next year when the sport debuts at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2021.
The idea of kids looking up to her the way she looks up to guys like Nick Bruce and Logan Martin, however, is still a little “mind-blowing,” she said.
“It’s weird to think about that because I’m still pretty young and obviously I look up to other riders,” said Roberts, who also won a gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games. “I do get parents that will message me and say, ‘My kid watches your videos, ’and they’ll thank me for being a positive role model and that’s, like, that’s really cool. It’s definitely nice, it’s just a little weird to get used to.”
Weird or not, Roberts is grateful for the opportunity she’ll have to help grow BMX freestyle and bring more people — especially girls and companies that might be willing to support them — into the sport. Because of COVID-19 that opportunity is on hold for another year, but the Buchanan, Michigan, native has used the unplanned breather from contests and traveling to relax a little, have fun and learn a whole bunch of new tricks in her home-away-from-home in North Carolina.
TeamUSA.org caught up with Roberts, who was enjoying the company of her new puppy, Koda, to talk about what she’s been up to while the sports world has largely been put on hold.
When the pandemic first hit in the U.S. and everything began shutting down, the Olympics hadn’t yet been postponed. A group of Olympic-bound and hopeful riders including Roberts, 2018 world champion Perris Benegas of Reno, Nevada, and Nikita Ducarroz, who is Swiss-American and competes for Switzerland, decided to quarantine together so they could keep training at the Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex in Holly Springs, North Carolina.
“We said no grocery stories, no going into the gas station if you have to go get gas, if you’re out in public you had to wear a face mask, everything was delivered and we had to wipe down everything that came in,” Roberts said. “There were a lot of ground rules to make sure we stayed safe.”
As the pandemic wore on and the Games were ultimately postponed until next summer, being together not only helped keep everyone motivated and having fun but it also helped the women deal with the range of emotions. The group started to occasionally take some days off here and there and would spend time at one another’s apartments and just doing different things to keep their minds occupied.
“We talked it out a lot,” Roberts said. “If someone got too worked up at a session we’d go home and sit and chat about it and make sure they were OK.”
Typically in the summer Roberts is focused on dialing in her existing tricks so she can perform them consistently throughout the competition season. Now with no contests to prepare for, Roberts has already added five or six new tricks to her repertoire.
What she’s working on now will very likely be among the tricks that wow the crowds and judges alike in Tokyo next year.
While BMX racing has been an Olympic sport since 2008, Roberts’ sport, BMX freestyle, is all about tricks. Athletes are judged based on their ability to perform tricks over a 60-second run, which in the Olympic format will take place in a park setting with spines, walls, box jumps and other obstacles.
Roberts has been thriving in the sport for years already.
She won her first world title in 2017, and in winning her second two years later she became the first woman to land a trick called a 360 tailwhip. Roberts finished third at worlds in 2018.
One of her most recent videos posted to Instagram shows her landing a flair whip, a trick that involves her riding up the ramp and launching into the air, doing a backflip, separating from the bike except for her hands and whipping it around before pulling it back in to land and ride away.
It’s one she’d been working on for a while, and it’s even harder than it sounds.