BMX Championship Chaser Charlotte Worthington

Published on 22 July 2022

By Catiana Rettenberger

First to win the European championships in BMX Freestyle Park. First to secure gold at the Olympic Games in BMX Freestyle Park. And the first to land a 360 backflip in BXM Freestyle Park, and even do so in competition. The talk is of Charlotte Worthington. The British native was a chef before she turned professional. But decided to take a leap of faith, much like her daring skills, and chase after her dreams. In an exclusive interview we talked to the daredevil and learned about how to come up with lines, her Ferrari and her 2022 season.

The 26-year-old tried many sports in school but stuck with riding scooters as a hobby after classes. After her degree she focused on work, earning her money as a chef. Sport was no longer a priority then, but would be again soon. “I fell out of love with riding scooters for a little bit. But I always dabbled with the BMX. And I kind of wanted a new challenge.”

First European champion, BMX Freestyle Park

She took to the new sport immediately. And was given the opportunity to be picked up by the new national funding programme in 2018. “So, I was faced with the choice: Either stick with working 40 hours in the kitchen or get paid to do something I love and take a chance on going to the Olympics.” In hindsight, Worthington couldn’t have made a better decision. The year after she won the inaugural UEC BMX Freestyle Park European Championships. Additionally, Worthington secured bronze at the world championships. Which was particularly exciting as she had to miss out on the 2018 edition after suffering a concussion.

Not everyone is familiar with the relatively new cycling discipline, but she has a catchy description on hand: “If you’ve never heard of it before, then picture gymnastics on a BMX bike.” Instead of a gymnastics routine, BMX riders perform a one-minute ‘run’, showing off their skill and a multitude of tricks. But similarly, to gymnastics, which will also be part of Munich 2022, the score is a summation of accredited points for difficulty, speed, height and execution.

The next milestone after her first successful pitstop at the world stage was supposed to be the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. (Well, we all know how that went.) Worthington almost missed out on the belated Games because she suffered a re-occurrence of a dislocated shoulder mere six weeks prior. Which put her training – and with it the participation at the Olympics – in jeopardy.

First Olympic champion, thanks to a Ferrari

First Olympic champion, thanks to a Ferrari

It would have been a true shame had she not been able to compete, because her second run has already gone down in history. She wasn’t only the first woman to land a 360 backflip in competition, but also the first to even dare try, in an Olympic final mind you.

A long while before the Olympic Games the professional athlete had known that she had to do something special to win gold. And it had to be something that played to her strengths, “which isn’t necessarily the highly technical tricks.” Therefore, it needed to be something risky.

The Brit kept including the full-twisting flip into her practices. And when Worthington first landed it in late 2020, after the actual scheduling of the Olympics, her coach realised: “That’s the trick!” That said, her coach is none other than Jamie Bestwick, a BMX legend, who won 14 BMX gold medals at the X Games, nine of which were consecutively.

From there on out, the clock was ticking to get the 360 backflip ready and steady enough to include in a run. Still, that wasn’t the only nerve-racking bit on their list. “Because we had to keep it [the 360 backflip] under wraps, we gave it the nickname ‘The Ferrari’.” As they said she ought to win a Ferrari, if she won gold at the Olympic Games.

Thankfully, the skill was ready just in time for the rescheduled Olympic Games and no one else knew of it. In her first run Worthington failed to land the twisting backflip, cutting her run short and leaving her out of the medal ranks entirely. Still, she went for it again, and succeeded. Later in August she added a world bronze medal to her Olympic title.

First ideas for lines

But how does one come up with a medal-worthy routine? “Lines are tough. I still find lines tough.” Her British teammate Declan Brook, who won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, doesn’t have the same problem. “Declan has a gift for it. So, half of the time I’m stealing lines off him,” Worthington explains with a grin. Judges don’t know the components of one’s performance ahead of time. Therefore, “going into a line, you could just drop in and do anything.” But that wouldn’t help your scoring in a competition. Because coming up with a run off the top of your head is extremely difficult, as you must show the greatest variety possible to score big. So, “the tricks are something where we might go in with a bullet point list of things we would like to get out of the course if it’s possible.”

Unfortunately, Worthington couldn’t tell us anything about what is on said list for the European Championships Munich 2022. Even the code names were off limit: “Sadly, that’s a little top-secret,” flashing a wide smile with knowing eyes. But the Olympic champion did share some tips on how to come up with a suitable line. Firstly, “you really got to play to your strengths and plan your run around that one minute.” And you should add “something, that’s going to keep your momentum high and your speed high. Something where you’re not going to get stuck,” while also hitting all the ramps in the park.

But you can’t prep your line all the way through until you know the layout of the park, and if there are immense differences to your training grounds, it can get difficult to practice. Even though there usually are the same features in a course, they are always laid out differently. Depending on their size and the distance between them the features can feel extremely different. “The things that stay the same are the tricks. You have to be able to adapt them to bigger or smaller ramps,” reiterates the British athlete.

And she went on to explain that even with great planning, you often have to change things up during the trainings at the competition venue, because sometimes you’re off when translating the graphics of the layout. Therefore, one should definitely use one’s time on-site wisely. And “you have to be able to adapt very quickly.”

First, the foam pit

But how do you even get to the point of having skills to pick and choose from? Similarly to gymnastics, “we also have foam pits. We have a ramp going into a huge swimming pool sized box full of foam blocks.” From said foam pit you level up to a resin ramp once you’ve mastered the execution. It “has a little bit of give, but you can still ride your bike onto it.” Nevertheless, “it still hurts when you fall, don’t get me wrong,” Worthington reveals laughingly probably remembering recent falls, aches and pains. After that you take the skill to a wooden ramp, hoping to land (or bail) safely. All three stages are usually incorporated into one practice, even if you’re training different skills.

First in the 2022 season?

First in the 2022 season?

And who knows, maybe she’s working on a Lamborghini right now. All for one goal: “I wasn’t able to attend the most recent European Championships in Russia, which was in 2021. So sadly, I had to lose that title [from 2019]. And so, I definitely have a goal to win that title back.”

Her biggest opposition are namely defending champion Nikita Ducarroz of Switzerland, and “overall Team Germany and definitely Team France.” The German rider and Class of 22 athlete “Lara [Lessmann] has been tough competition for a few years. Since I started it was always tough to beat her, and she’s always got some decent tricks up her sleeve.” Though “new faces are coming out of the woodworks this year, especially after the Olympics.”

A lot of cyclists will flock to Munich mid-August, as four different disciplines will crown their European champions in the Bavarian capital. And Worthington is looking forward to it: “I find road cycling and mountain biking really exciting. So, it’d be really cool to catch a little bit of that.” The BMX rider knows exactly who she’d be most pleased to watch. “It’ll be nice to see some other of our [British] athletes out there, and have a whole host of European championships, cause previously we’ve had it separately. So having the other disciplines there will be awesome.” Mountain bike cross-country Olympic champion Jolanda Neff felt the same way about rounding up the cycling family in our exclusive interview with her.

Both Olympic champions agree that mountain bike and BMX can be considered close to each other, “whereas track and road are literally a completely different sport.” But Worthington isn’t exclusively interested in cycling, she has taken a fancy to gymnastics as well. “I think I’d really like to try doing the flips and spins that we do without a bike,” though the feeling would surely be different.

First the ankle braces

With the bike however, the athletes are required to wear protective gear. Unlike many athletes she is very particular about this part of the process. “My superstition is, I put my protective pads on in the same order every time. So, that’s my ankle braces, knee pads, shin pads and then the helmet. Same order every time, left, right, left, right. And if I mess it up, I start again.”

The mantra isn’t a bad one, if you fail, just give it another go. After all, that’s how Worthington won her Olympic title.

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Munich 2022European ChampionshipsCycling