After being named first reserve for the French men’s BMX squad at successive Olympic Games, waiting one more year to fulfil his Olympic dream is no problem for Sylvain André. And, with a garage full of gym equipment, the 2018 world champion is going to be raring and ready to go…
Like everyone, Sylvain André is devastated by the effect COVID-19 is having on life around the globe. But, sticking to what he can control, the French BMX star is using his time as wisely as possible and looking to the future with relish.
“I think, as athletes, we are basically made to be ready to adapt to any situation,” André said. “We have had the big news that they pushed it to 2021, but for myself I don’t see much difference.
“Even if the Olympics were in 2020 I would still be racing in 2021, even if I did not qualify or didn’t win the gold.
“My motivation to go to Tokyo is very, very, very high. It’s basically my last shot at going to the Games after being an alternate twice, and the thing is I am really looking forward to these Games because now I know I can do something and actually grab a medal – not being cocky, but because I have done it before.”
Such confidence seems well placed. Not many sportsmen or women worldwide can rival André’s consistently excellent performances in the period since the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Following his first elite World Cup win in May 2017, the Frenchman went on to grab a further seven World Cup podium places and another win, enough to secure him the overall season title in 2017.
Not only has he shown that he can be one of the very best, week in, week out, but he’s also proved that he can produce the goods in those one-off, high-intensity competitions when everything is on the line. First he took individual silver at the 2017 World Championships before snatching gold in 2018 and bronze in 2019.
“I don’t really know what clicked because actually I didn’t change much. I didn’t change my training, I didn’t change my coach, the place I live, where I train – I didn’t change anything,” André mulled. “I knew before I was capable of doing it, but once you do it, it’s another big step.
“Having that tough background before winning races is a good circle. You know what is wrong and suddenly, even on a bad day, you can make the most of it and still be right up there.”
The 27-year-old is determined that the fact he, like his peers, is in self-isolation right now will not affect his form or confidence.
“I’ve got a garage full of gym equipment, I got some extra before they locked everything down, so I can do everything I like,” said the man who is at home with his partner and baby daughter. “Actually since there’s not much to do, I pretty much go to the garage every day. I’ll be fit for sure for whatever is next.”
When competition does resume André knows the stakes will be high. The world’s best will have to adapt quickly to a new event calendar, with 23 July 2021 the new D-Day. Luckily, he revels in such situations.
“It’s cool because it is a time when some athletes in all sports struggle a little bit; but, for me, I don’t know what the secret is really, but when the pressure is on, I am fast,” he said. “I only think of the positive aspect of pressure, the spectators, the event. Everything just gives me an extra boost.”
Tokyo 2020 will mark BMX’s fourth appearance at the Olympic Games, and André is a stirring legacy of the move to give the discipline space on the world’s biggest sporting stage. Not that he knew it at the time.
“I was 16, and since they were riding in the morning [in Beijing in 2008] it was night for us, and we basically stayed awake three nights in a row,” André recalled.
“It was fantastic and I was a big fan, but even then I didn’t really know you could become professional and make a living out of it.
“I was one of the top 16-year-old kids in the world, but I didn’t know how these things worked. I just stayed in my little town in the south of France doing my thing and going to the races. I never thought two years later I would be racing the guy I was watching on TV.”
By 2014, the teenage André was racing on the World Cup stage, and although it took him a while to turn his youthful promise into senior success, his arrival did herald a step change. From struggling to secure representation in major men’s finals, suddenly France had Joris Daudet winning the 2016 World Championship, André and Daudet finishing second and third respectively a year later, and the pair each moving up a step on the podium in 2018.
Success, as André stressed, breeds success. “They saw us and thought, ‘Yeah it is possible’,” he explained. “We are not so much faster than the rest but it’s a good group, and when someone succeeds you want to succeed as well.”
It has meant the competition for Olympic places is exceptionally high in the French men’s squad. Last season, six elite French male riders made the World Cup finals. But André, second in the season rankings when competition was put on hold, is not going to miss out again.
“I am not the most powerful guy, I am not the most skilled guy, but I am pretty good around the track and towards the end,” the 27-year-old said. “I can make up time in the second half of the track, which has given me some good wins and good results. It is pretty useful.
“I was kind of looking forward to August 2020 and then taking a break, but it will be just one more year of full gas again, and maybe the break after 2021 will just be even longer.”