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BMX rider's uphill battle to make it to the Olympics may be all for naught

Chances of heading to Tokyo getting slimmer for Gisborne-raised Jessie Smith.

BMX rider Jessie Smith crashed at a Tokyo Olympics test event five months ago.

She may return to Japan this year for the real deal but the chances are getting slimmer because New Zealand riders face an uphill battle to qualify and the Games themselves look vulnerable in a world racked by the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, pandemic.

Smith, 18, was raised in Gisborne, but has been based at Hamilton and Cambridge in recent times when she's in New Zealand.

She said training had been going ahead as normal, more or less.

The Avantidrome near Cambridge — New Zealand's premier centre for cycling — had to close this week because someone there showed signs of having Covid-19.

“It sucks but I'm glad they are taking the right measures to disinfect the building and training facilities,” Smith said.

The person tested negative for coronavirus and the facility is to reopen on Monday.

Training may be proceeding OK for Kiwi athletes but drastic measures overseas to slow the spread of the virus have disrupted Olympic qualification events.

Cycling is just one sport to have qualification processes affected by event cancellations, training-facility closures and stricter border controls.

As things stand, New Zealand has qualified one female BMX rider.

New Zealand could qualify a second but the rider would need to do well at an event in Houston in May, should it go ahead.

“These events that are getting cancelled were very important for qualifying but also for our team selection,” Smith said.

“The races that were meant to be held in April-May were the chances for me to stamp my mark.

“However, we don't know if the world cups or even the world championships will proceed.”

Smith won the junior elite world title in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, in July last year.

She had a fourth placing in the senior ranks at the World Cup Supercross round in Paris the previous month.

She can recall her October crash in Tokyo and the aftermath in detail.

“It was right before racing during the last 10 minutes of practice,” Smith said.

“I intended to jump the first jump as it's the fastest way through. However, I second-guessed myself and crashed.

“That crash put me in hospital with a ruptured accessory spleen, fluid in my left lung and a concussion.

“After a month, my internal organs were all healed and I was just waiting for my concussion to come right.”

She's in the clear now but her confidence took a hit.

“I'm working every day to believe more and more in myself and my skills.”

Smith has been keeping up with news around the world and noted the widespread ramifications of the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on sport.

The athletes are, of course, following advice to wash their hands more, clean equipment and avoid close contact with others.

“I have a lot of friends in Europe and really feel for them at this moment — self-isolation and full lockdown isn't fun but also the fact that their training facilities are closed.”

Smith was sad that there had been an inability to care for elderly people in the worst-affected places.

“I just hope the world goes back to normal soon.”

New Zealanders were generally “acting in a regular manner” but some were still panic-buying items when there was no need.

“We need to be smart at this time, maintain social distance, wash hands and surfaces and be kind to our elders.”

Bouncing back: BMX rider Jessie Smith has bounced back after a crash at a Tokyo Olympics late last year. She is now hoping the world can bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic this year. Picture supplied