Australian Saya Sakakibara’s Olympic journey has ended in tears, after the favourite was stretchered off the track during the BMX racing semi-finals.
Sakakibara had just lost the lead in the third race to American Alise Willoughby when they went down together in a messy stack.
Sakakibara showed signs of mild concussion and spent time at the medical centre.
But within half an hour she had resurfaced, recovered and cleared, to console her boyfriend French rider Romain Mahieu who finished sixth in the men’s final.
Speaking to the Seven Network after the crash, Sakakibara said she was confused and disappointed.
“Definitely confused. Honestly I don’t really know what happened,” Sakakibara said.
“This is so disappointing I feel like I let everyone down… Especially my brother.”
Sakakibara thanked her supporters and said she would “come back stronger for Paris.”
Sakakibara’s ‘proud’ brother
It was a blow for the Sakakibara family, with Saya’s older brother Kai still recovering from a traumatic brain injury after a crash at a World Cup BMX race in February 2020.
Kai is in Tokyo with his mother and grandmother to be part of the Paralympic torch relay, but was not at the track on Friday because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Kai later told Seven his sister’s stack was annoying, but he remained proud of her and looks forward to her next attempt in Paris.
“Saya, I know this isn’t what you wanted, but either way I’m proud and let’s go and prepare for the next one,” Kai said.
Willoughby, who crashed into Saya, is the wife of Australian BMX star Sam Willoughby.
Sam was paralysed from the waist down after a training crash soon after the Rio Olympics.
The 2012 London silver medallist was trackside and consoled his wife, the Rio silver medallist, after she finished last in her semi-final heat.
Had Sakakibara finished her last semi-final race, she would have made the final.
Fellow Australian and three-time Olympian Lauren Reynolds went on to qualify, making third place in the semi-final heats.
It was the first time she had made it to an Olympic final, but unfortunately she didn’t make the dais in the end and placed fifth.
Reynolds also had a minor crash in one of her semi-final heats, running into the fence on the first bend and finishing second-last out of eight riders before recovering her spot.
Both women were among several riders to crash in the men’s and women’s semis on the technical circuit at Ariake Urban Sports Park.
American star Connor Fields was also stretchered off the course after crashing in his third semi-final and reportedly was taken to hospital.
Australia shines in the pool
Quickly becoming Aussie legends, Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell made Australia proud in the pool on Friday.
The women blitzed the 100-metre freestyle, collecting a gold and bronze medal respectively.
McKeon won Friday’s final in an Olympic record-breaking 51.96 seconds followed by Siobhan Haughey (52.27) from Hong Kong and Campbell (52.52).
It was a glorious moment for the Dolphins, who have added more medals to the nation’s haul than any other sporting team in Tokyo so far.
Both women hope to follow up that result by qualifying for the 50-metre event on Friday night to get another shot at gold.
McKeon is already dripping in medals from the Tokyo Games, with four podium finishes to her name by Friday afternoon.
Her haul includes two gold medals for the 100-metre freestyle and 4×100-metre freestyle relay, and two bronze, for the 100-metre butterfly and 4×200-metre freestyle relay.
The 27-year-old swimming star is threatening the Australian record for most medals at a single Olympic Games.
Australia’s next gold medal?
Hopes of gold in the trampoline gymnastics have been dashed, with Australia’s Jessica Pickering eliminated on Friday, placing 12th in the semi-final.
But there’s still time to add to the nation’s nine gold, two silver and 11 bronze medals on day seven of the Tokyo Games, with Australia fifth in the medal tally.
Lucien Delfour will attack the canoe slalom on Friday afternoon, navigating one step closer to a gold medal after qualifying in the semi-final.
After his female counterpart Jess Fox won a famous gold medal in the women’s C1 final on Thursday, hopes are running high for Delfour to follow suit.
Later on Friday afternoon, Ash Barty and Jon Peers will hit the court for the mixed doubles semi-final, with hopes they’ll progress to the medal rounds.
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But on Friday night all Australian eyes will be watching Pat Tiernan as he runs 10,000 metres towards a gold medal for the nation.
Back in the pool on Saturday, Australians Kaylee McKeown and Emily Seebohm will swim for gold in the 200-metre backstroke final.