Five years ago, after the Rio Olympic Games, Australian BMX athlete Lauren Reynolds was at her lowest.
“After Rio I felt completely unaccomplished,” says Reynolds.
“Even though I had been to two Olympic Games, I felt like I was going nowhere and nothing made sense.
“I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there and because I wasn’t competitive out there, I didn’t feel like I should be there.”
After Rio, on top of the personal pressure Reynolds placed on herself, there was external pressure too. Many thought that she didn’t have another Olympic Games in her – that she was too old and too slow.
But Reynolds knew she still had more to offer and that’s what kept her going.
“I knew I wasn’t done and I knew that I hadn’t got what I wanted out of the sport and I hadn’t reached my potential or delivered when it mattered,” she says.
“That feeling of reaching my potential was something I craved and I always felt like it was in me to be successful and get the results on paper that I have wanted.
“After Rio, I completely reassessed.”
That started with changing coach.
In 2017, Reynolds linked up with Sam Willoughby and began to develop a three-year plan leading into Tokyo.
But not long after, a routine training drill went terribly wrong and Willoughby injured his spine. The accident left him completely paralysed. So not only was Reynolds in a difficult place, questioning her future, but her new coach also had significant challenges of his own.
This didn’t stop them.
Since then, Willoughby and Reynolds have continued to work alongside each other and, according to Reynolds, have built a tight-knit crew.
Not only does Willoughby coach Reynolds, but he also coaches his wife, Alise. Alise and Reynolds will compete against each other in Tokyo.
While Reynolds recognises that this might be a unique training group, “it just works”.
“I am Australian and so is Sam, but Alise is from the United States,” says Reynolds.
“I train with Alise every single day, but I race against her and I want to beat her and she wants to beat me.
“I don’t think too many people would be able to handle the dynamic, but it just works. I don’t know how, but it just does.”
One of the challenges during these Games is the restrictions imposed because of the COVID—19 pandemic. Athletes are more isolated than they have ever been, with little crowd support and being unable to bring their friends and family along to cheer them on.
For some athletes this is extremely challenging. But Reynolds is used to her own company, because BMX is an individual sport.
“There is no team when you are on the gate and the entire event is over in 30 seconds,” she says.
“When you race you don’t have time to think about anything other than your performance.
“It’s an extremely aggressive sport, you have a small crew that helps you prepare and then you are on your own.”
Reynolds is also used to competing in front of few people, so the lack of crowd noise is something she has grown accustomed to.
“It’s a big track that I haven’t ridden before but I like a little bit of the unknown and it puts pressure on me to get there and learn the track quickly,” she says.
“In BMX we never get massive crowd anyway and I am so used to training in quiet spaces that we create.
“I don’t need a massive crowd to thrive and to rise, I think these little quirks are going to really help me and my performance.”
Now the countdown is on and Reynolds cannot wait to compete.
“The last five years have been up and down, they have just been everything,” says Reynolds. “I have been from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs.
“I feel like physically and emotionally I am as fit and ready as I have ever been so now it’s just time to go out there and smash everyone.
“I know that sounds aggressive, but it’s so built up that I’m so hungry to race and do my best, whether that means finishing in fifth or first place.”