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'I let everyone down, especially my brother': Saya's gut-wrenching reaction to BMX crash

(Photo by Getty Images)
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30th July, 2021
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The brutal nature of BMX riding was hammered home Friday when devastated Australian rider Saya Sakakibara crashed out of Olympic contention in a collision with America’s Alise Willoughby.

In a cruel irony, Alise is the wife of Sam Willougby, the Australia rider paralysed in a training accident in 2016.

Saya had dedicated her Olympic campaign to her brother Kai, who suffered brain damage in a crash that cost him his place at the Games in February last year. Kai, 25, said before the race he told his sister to ‘go have fun,’ and the 21-year-old shot to the front before clipping elbows with Willoughby.

Both tumbled out of contention and Alise looked distraught as Saya was treated on the ground. She later responded and gave a gut-wrenching interview with Channel Seven.

“I’m definitely confused,” Sakakibara said. “I don’t really know what happened. I knew that I was riding really well and I just came down with Alise.

“That’s all I remember. This is so disappointing. I feel that I let everyone down, especially my brother.

“BMX this is what it is. To be honest, I don’t really think it’s clicked that it’s over. It sucks.

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“It would’ve been great to be in that final and go for that gold, but this is just the sport of BMX … I have to make sure I can come back stronger for Paris”

Kai Sakakibara nearly died when he crashed heavily in a race and suffered traumatic head injuries which still affect him, although he has been able to get back on a bike.

He told Channel Seven that Saya had given the event her best shot and “anyone who says she wasn’t is lying.”

“Unfortunately she had a bad stack and that was really annoying,” Kai said. “Either way I’m really proud of her. I can’t wait to see her race again.

“Saya, I know this isn’t what you wanted but I’m proud. Let’s go and prepare for the next one.”

Sakakibara and Willoughby were battling for control at the front of the pack when they touched elbows and fell heavily. The crash meant she missed out on the top four and a chance of a medal.

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“A touch of the elbow at these speeds … you just lose control,” said Anna Meares on the Seven commentary.

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