Following Niek Kimmann’s bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014, the Dutchman conquered the BMX world the following year. Next in his sights: Tokyo 2020.
When BMX was approved in 2006 as an Olympic discipline for Beijing 2008, Niek Kimmann was just 10 years old. Within another 10 years, he would be a YOG medallist and world champion.
Kimmann arrived at the YOG Nanjing 2014 having just won the men’s junior race and men’s junior time trial events at the 2014 UCI BMX World Championships. The YOG featured just one event in BMX: the men’s team event. Kimmann and compatriot Wiebe Scholten finished in third place, taking home the bronze medal.
From there, Kimmann took his racing to the next level. No one had ever become world champion in their debut season as a senior athlete, but the Dutchman returned to the UCI BMX World Championships in 2015 and won the men’s race to achieve that feat.
Then, an Olympic year: Rio 2016 beckoned, and Kimmann entered the competition in fine form, having taken silver at the 2016 UCI BMX World Championships. Unfortunately, a crash in the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games resulted in an injury which prevented him from performing to his full capacity in the final. Kimmann would go on to finish seventh.
With Tokyo 2020 just one year away, he told olympic.org about his journey so far.
What effect did BMX’s inclusion on the Olympic programme have on you?
“Before I started BMX, I was speed skating. When I was only five or six years old, my dad always said to stick to speed skating. But I just loved BMX and I was always a huge fan of the Olympics. I remember the first time BMX was in the Olympics was in Beijing 2008; it was my first week in a new school and I would wake up every night at 3 a.m. to watch BMX and then be sleeping in school the next day, and then the next night the same again.”
How was your first Olympic experience at the YOG in Nanjing?
“I was surprised at how big it was. It was such a great experience, especially because we were still junior, and everything was so new. I still see those three weeks in China as one of the best experiences of my life, especially as I came home with a medal!”
What was the most valuable lesson you took from the YOG?
“To enjoy the experience, because the YOG is something so much bigger than you can imagine. I'm not talking about just the events, but the whole experience itself. It’s important to focus on what you have to do, but not to forget to enjoy it at the same time.”
What were the biggest differences between the YOG and Rio 2016?
“The YOG is big when you’re there, but on the outside you can't really compare it to the actual Olympics with the attention you get. It’s pretty similar – I think just the attention on the outside is completely different.”
You’re one of the youngest competitors at most events. Does that make a difference?
“When you're young you don't think too much, especially if you haven't had big results yet and no one's expecting anything from you. You don't have to worry. You're just young and aggressive, and when you get older, people expect to see results. I think when you grow up, if you can keep that young mindset, age shouldn’t really matter.”
Your younger brother Justin is also a successful BMX athlete. What’s it like competing alongside him?
“We are pretty much best friends. When just one of us is racing, we are more nervous for each other! Obviously, we each want to win, but we have so much respect for each other.”
What is your main objective ahead of Tokyo 2020?
“In sport there are no guarantees. So, I want to qualify first and we'll see from there. In Rio I crashed in the quarter-finals, tearing my ligaments and breaking a bone in my foot. I would love to race the Olympic final again knowing that I’m physically at the best I can be. That's the goal: to race the Olympic final again injury-free.”