The Times Australia

The Times


the jaw-dropping, high-flying tricks that won BMX freestyler Logan Martin the gold

  • Written by Eva Ellmer, The University of Queensland

BMX freestyle has had its debut in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Logan Martin just made history by winning the first gold medal for Australia in the sport.

The fresh, youthful, and at times risky sport involves the execution of acrobatic tricks on a BMX bike while jumping over obstacles such as walls, box jumps and spines.

A box jump is a ramp with a flat, solid surface on top - similar to a table top. A spine is like having two quarter-pipes placed back to back. The spine is designed to gain height rather than distance.

Riders are scored on multiple aspects, such as the difficulty, originality, height and creativity of their tricks during a 60-second run.

Martin’s tricks explained

So, what exactly did Martin do to win gold? Here’s a quick explanation of the tricks in his repertoire:

1. Reverse triple tail whip into an orthodox triple tail whip

In a tail whip, the rider lets go of the pedals while using the feet to spin the back of the bike around the handlebars. Logan did it three times in a row.

He completed the first tail whip in his gold-medal performance in the counter-clockwise direction, or in the direction of his non-preferred hand. He then followed this trick with another triple tail whip in the direction of his preferred hand (clockwise). This is a trick only Logan has mastered.

2. 540 flair into an opposite flair to finish

In a flair, both the rider and bike do a backflip combined with a 180-degree turn.

Logan completed this trick by twisting one and a half times mid-air on one side of the quarter pipe, and finished his run with another flair in the opposite, non-dominant direction on the opposing quarter pipe.

3. “Nothing” front bike flip

In this move, Logan takes off on a jump and flips the bike between his legs mid-air while he remains motionless. He then catches the handles — still mid-air — and pulls the bike back to his body and safely lands on it.

The most important attributes for BMX riders

BMX freestyle is still considered a relatively new and emerging sport. Given the amount of time it has been around, however, the progression of the sport has been tremendous compared to more traditional sports.

Almost every conceivable trick with a bike has seemingly now been invented, meaning the progression of the sport lies depends on the creativity of the athlete to combine a number of tricks together.

Read more: Alt goes mainstream: how surfing, skateboarding, BMX and sport climbing became Olympic events[1]

For example, instead of just doing a backflip, riders now combine a backflip with a bar spin. Similarly, many riders now learn to perform tricks the opposite way – as showcased by Martin is his Olympic run. He completed a back-to-back triple tail whip, once with the bike spinning counter-clockwise and then clockwise.

The bigger the combination, the bigger the reward. This showcases that a rider has a large skillset and has taken time to learn and perform a broad range of tricks.

the jaw-dropping, high-flying tricks that won BMX freestyler Logan Martin the gold Logan Martin is a two-time world champion in men’s BMX freestyle. Ben Curtis/AP

Elite riders like Martin can combine up to five tricks in one. However, doing big tricks with multiple combinations is only valuable if riders can maintain control of their bikes and bodies, and land smoothly.

Execution is one of the most important components of BMX freestyle. Martin is known for his smooth runs and has even himself described the sport as being “gymnastics on a bike[2]”.

In my research on elite BMX riders[3], I found that by practising the biggest tricks on a daily basis, riders learn to develop an intuitive understanding of what feel “good” and what feels “bad”.

This allows the athletes not only to establish perceptual but also problem-solving skills, meaning they know when to quickly adjust their bodies (or bikes) to avoid a crash or serious injury.

For Martin, it means his best tricks becoming second nature to him, allowing him to fine-tune his movements and gain a competitive advantage to other riders.

Read more: Most expensive, greatest gender parity, most sports: Tokyo Olympics by the numbers[4]

How do they train?

What should be highlighted more in discussing the achievements of action sports athletes like Martin, is that many have learned and developed their skills in the absence of formally accredited coaches[5].

Unlike most traditional athletes who have had access to training programs and coaches, Martin taught himself most of his tricks or learned with and from his peers.

He also built a skatepark in his own backyard[6] to help prepare for the Olympics. Here, he regularly rides with his best mates, Brendan Loupos (the 2019 world champion) and Jaie Toohey, who taught him the “nothing” front bike flip.

In a risky sport like BMX freestyle, having your mates around while learning dangerous tricks is important as they can help create a psychologically safe environment.

Action sport athletes tend to build strong trust relationships with their peers as they encourage and support one another in performing new and dangerous tasks. This helps a BMXer change their perception of negative emotions such as fear, enabling them to learn new tricks and develop their skills further.

As COVID restrictions forced the closure of two of Queensland’s indoor skateparks, Cycling Australia committed to building a new BMX freestyle indoor training facility to allow these athletes to continue with their training[7].

This also provided the opportunity for these athletes to train in a more formal coaching system for the first time.

Under the supervision of Wade Boots, Cycling Australia’s high-performance coach and technical director, and sports scientist Eric Haakonssen, the BMX freestyle athletes got in Olympic competition shape through cross training, periodisation (progressive cycles of training and recovery periods), and more emphasis on proper nutrition and breathing while riding.

In addition, strategic decisions were discussed in relation to the sequencing of tricks. For example, rather than pulling out his best tricks early on in Tokyo, risking a fault or crash, Martin completed a run he was comfortable with.

Little did he know it would be enough to win him the gold.

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