WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As a teenager growing up in Southern California, Ryan Nyquist witnessed the earliest years of bicycle motorcross, or BMX. He saw riders flying into the air, twisting, flipping and spinning, and decided he wanted to be part of it. Now, more than 20 years after turning pro, Nyquist is headed to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Toyko, Japan, as BMX Freestyle becomes a medal sport for the first time. USA Cycling recently named the three-time world champion as the head coach of the organization’s first BMX Freestyle teams that will compete for the gold.
“I’d like to think of it on the same level as what ESPN did for us with the X Games,” Nyquist said of the sport’s debut in the 2020 Games. “The fact that we are in there and bring it to that broader audience. From everything I hear we have a really great TV spot. You know some of these sports are on at 2:00 a.m. We have some pretty great tv slots. This is a really awesome opportunity for us.”
Nyquist remembers the X Games influence because he lived it as a young rider new to the professional ranks. Nyquist was fresh out of high school when he made his debut in the 1997 games, winning a Bronze Medal in the BMX Dirt events. He won the first of his four Gold Medals three years later, also in BMX Dirt, while also winning Bronze in BMX Street. He swept both golds in 2003, and also won the 2004 ESPY Award for Best Action Sports Athlete. His world championships came in 2007 and 2009, in the AST Dew Tour BMX Dirt Dew Cup, and 2013 in the AST Dew Tour Park Dew Cup. Nyquist has continued to compete and find success against the best riders in the world. He says the knowledge he gained in competition will help him as a coach.
“When I was kind of applying for the job, I said ‘I’ve been competing against these guys, so I know their weaknesses’,” the 40-year-old California native says. “When I rolled over into coach those weaknesses, instead of focusing in on how I can take advantage of that, it became ‘how do I fix that now’.”
To become the best in the world in BMX Freestyle, riders have to be innovative, trying moves in mid-air that set them apart from the other competitors. Part of striving for excellence in this sport, though, is knowing the hard reality of hitting the ground. Nyquist says he is a great ‘crasher’. He admits trying a new trick and feeling the effects of a fall, while not the goal, can have positive long-term benefits.
“It’s gonna happen, you’re going to fall down,” he says. “But if you know how to react, and how to make those split-second decisions that put you in a better situation to walk away unscathed, that gives you longevity. It gives you experience, body awareness, all of that stuff. So, all of these veterans, these people you see that are going to be in the Olympics have taken their fair share of crashes. But they know how to crash."
Nyquist lived and trained in Greenville, North Carolina for years. That’s where he met his wife Ali, and together they moved their three boys to Wilmington in 2018. She owns Amplify, a cycling-themed gym and physical fitness center. Ryan built a ramp in his yard, and he uses it to keep his riding skills sharp. Nyquist has invited some Olympic hopefuls to his ramp to train and sees Wilmington as a place where BMX riding can flourish.
“There’s a really great scene in Raleigh, two hours away,” Nyquist says. ”I would love to see it close by here because I feel it really just fits with the culture, you know, surf, great town, we have great weather pretty much all year long. It kind of all works, so why not do some more?”
Nyquist will lead the U-S riders into the U-S-A Cycling Freestyle Championships and then the Pan American Championships. Both will be held this October in Cary.
You can hear my full interview with legendary BMX Freestyle rider Ryan Nyquist by clicking on any of the links below.
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