SA BMX star goes for gold

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

BEIJING - South African BMX star Sifiso Nhlapo is one of the athletes who has brought a motivator to spur him on in his quest to triumph at the Beijing Olympic Games.

He has been joined at the Games by his mother, Thokozile Mhlanga, who paid for her own expenses to root for her son as he competes in the heats for a berth in the final.

He competes against 32 BMX cyclists and only eight of them will book places in the final tomorrow of the event that is making its Olympic debut.

The 21-year-old full-time BMX rider told Sowetan yesterday his mother's presence next to the track is a huge motivator for him.

"My mother is my pillar of strength and her unwavering support has pulled me through many obstacles in my career. I'm where I am today in this game because of her backing," said the eloquent Nhlapo.

"It's all systems go for me as I have done all that was required of me to challenge for a medal here."

Another encouraging factor for this lad from Alberton, who started racing at the tender age of 13, is that 90 percent of his competitors here competed against him at the European Champion- ships that started last October and finished in May.

He finished second overall in the European Championships, the most highly competitive BMX series in the world.

He had some bad memories in the European Championships, though. He was admitted at a German hospital in May after he lost consciousness in a career-threatening crash in one round of the series.

But doctors gave him a clean bill of health after he regained consciousness after four hours. He was soon back on the tracks.

"It was scary but I was happy that I overcame that injury," he said.

Nhlapo, who is the only athlete representing South Africa in this event, proved his prowess on the BMX track at the age of 15 when he reached the semifinals of the World Championships in Brazil in 2003.

He came eighth in the same event in Holland the following year.

He snatched poll at the World Junior Men's Championships in Paris and finished third at the 2008 Elite World Championships in Italy.

Nhlapo, who is mentored by Swiss coach Herve Krebs, has always demonstrated the never-say-die attitude when riding and this could see him prevail in the Olympics.