It has been two years since Caroline Buchanan lost the gold medal race at the London Olympics after a disastrous start to the event she was highly fancied to win, but Canberra’s reigning BMX world champion has learnt from her mistake.
The 24-year-old has spent the past year training with the Australian Institute of Sport, where fixing her race starts was a priority.
She did just that, and “laid those demons of London to bed” beating Olympic champion Mariana Pejon at last year’s World Championship, and is aiming to make it back-to-back titles in two-weeks’ time.
“I definitely thrive off adversity,” she said. “I know it’s always up from there. That was one thing with London - it was devastating in the moment, but I knew that was the most amount of pressure, that final moment - I blew my gate start, but from there I knew I was never going to make that mistake again.”
Post-London Buchanan moved from the ACT Academy of Sport to the AIS, taking advantage of the expertise and facilities - including an altitude room and recovery centre - to improve all facets of her performance.
“It’s a big puzzle, it’s not just about the bike,” she said. “[We’re] being creative with basically BMX being a young sport, there hasn’t been a lot of research put into it yet.
“[I’m] making sure I’m strong and fit and healthy and fast and my mind’s right, but then I can also deliver on the bike, so it’s that full package of making sure all those aspects come together.”
After bowing to the pressure of her first Olympic Games, Buchanan has been working with a sports psychologist to sharpen her mental edge.
“At the top elite level of any sport … everyone’s on similar levels - we’ve all got good engines, we’ve all got great skill, we can all ride a bike, but that extra little bit of mental [strength] - you can deal with pressure better, you can prepare better, you can channel your energy better, whatever it is, that little mental edge at the end of the day is generally what wins the races.”
What she is missing in Canberra, however, is an Olympic-standard BMX track to practice her starts.
Before leaving for the world championships in the Netherlands, she is spending two days in Sydney with fellow Olympian Luke Madill, who has a standard eight-metre start ramp at his house.
“He went to the Beijing Olympics and Red Bull built him a smaller replica of the Beijing Olympic track,” she said.
Private sponsorship is something Buchanan has been exploring in her campaign for a new Canberra track.
“The two tracks in Canberra are great BMX tracks, awesome for younger riders, but now with the progression of BMX, we’ve only got one Olympic standard track in Australia - and that’s on the Gold Coast.
“It makes sense with the AIS here … and Canberra’s kind of the cycling capital.”
It is also home to other up-and-coming BMX riders, including Harriet Burbidge-Smith and Mikayla Rose, who will both be competing in the World Championship junior categories.