Beth Shriever and Kye Whyte were around 12 years old when they first met on the youth talent teams in Great Britain’s BMX system. In the time since, they have gone their separate ways on their own unique, testing paths and then converged again as training partners and professionals in Manchester. They have seen each other at their worst, through tears and doubt, and constantly lent each other a helping hand.
And now, on the biggest stage, they have also triumphed together. After a delirious day of BMX racing, Shriever, 22, and Whyte, 21, emerged as Great Britain’s first ever BMX medalists within minutes of each other as Whyte clinched a silver medal in the men’s race just before Shriever closed off a day of dominance by becoming the Olympic champion in the women’s event.
It marks a moment of validation for both after the unique paths they have blazed. Just a few years ago, despite being the 2017 world junior champion, Shriever was working part-time as a teaching assistant in a primary school in Essex while training on the side. After UK Sport decided that only male BMX riders would be supported after Rio, she required money from crowdfunding simply in order to travel to competitions. She has since rejoined British Cycling and trains in Manchester with Whyte, where she is the only female rider in the squad: “I never thought I would even be here,” she said.
Meanwhile, Whyte hails from Peckham in south London and his formative years were spent at Peckham BMX Club, where his father was a coach, his mother a secretary and he and his elder brother, Tre, built international BMX careers. He wears his pride for Peckham on his sleeve and before the event he frequently spoke of his determination to bring something back. Now he will.
As he set the course in Tokyo alight, back home friends, family, coaches and many more convened at the club in the early hours of each morning to watch him. When he called in on Friday morning and tried to speak to them all, he found himself on the verge of tears and could not utter a word.
Even before the medal rush, it had been some day. BMX racing is furious, dynamic fun. But there are also perilous risks involved, a fact that was made clear when two competitors, including the defending men’s gold medalist Connor Fields, were carried off the course in stretchers after sustaining injuries in brutal crashes.
Both Whyte and and Shriever said they were unfazed by the danger in their sport: “If you’re scared, you might as well pack your bags early,” said Whyte. “Because you’re not gonna ride properly if you’re scared to crash. I said to my brother this morning: ‘Nothing’s stopping me, I’m prepared to crash.’” He says that his brother responded: “Chill, g.” On the morning of an Olympic final, he was not quite ready to relax: “Nah, I don’t care,” he wrote back. “I’m going to war.”
Their battles were entirely different spectacles. Whyte overcame two “crap” starts in his first two runs, but he found his groove by winning the third semi-final heat of three. Whyte finished his final with a time of 39.167sec after establishing his second place spot and then rapidly closing the gap on the eventual winner, Niek Kimmann holidng him off in the gold medal spot by just 0.144sec.
Shriever, meanwhile, was in fantastic form from the off and her flame endured throughout. She dominated her semi-finals, breezing through all three by large distances and she had established herself as one of the superior women’s riders going into the final.
Once she arrived there, she repeated her form again under pressure, creating a clear lead early on. She was tracked all the way by Mariana Pajón of Colombia but she maintained her composure and held on to take the gold medal with the time of 44.358sec, winning by just 0.09sec.
As Shriever dismounted from her bike, Whyte sprinted over to her and lifted her into the sky. However, in those first moments after her win she could barely move: “I had nothing left at the end. I left it all on the track,” she said. “I honestly could not even stand up. The lactic acid in my legs, I’ve never felt anything like it before.” The result of pushing her body to the limit was a glistening gold medal and the distinction of being the best in the world.
But for the pair – a black BMX rider from Peckham and the only woman in her training setup – this is also an opportunity to help shape the sport in their images. “It’s amazing,” said Shriever. “We’ve created history. Inspiring the next generation, inspiring more girls to get involved. Like Kye was saying, I’m the only girl in the programme. To get a few more girls coming in, to get them involved would be amazing.”
As he departed the stadium following the medal ceremony, Whyte said that he was even happier for Shriever than himself. He listed many of the struggles he has seen her endure, from dislocating her shoulder during hard training, to the stress her dreams inflicted on her: “Even before we left out here, her starts weren’t that great,” he said. “I gave her a little hand. She was crying, I said: ‘Beth, you’re flippin’ rapid. You’re actually very fast.’ She’s gone and proven it. Nothing I can say. From the first race, I knew she was going to win.’