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Turbo Monkey
Apr 8, 2006
New York City

She said she has watched the video a hundred times.

Yet, for all those viewings, the BMX cyclist Arielle Martin still does not know exactly how she crashed her bike at the 2008 world championships in Taiyuan, China; whether it was excessive speed, a sudden shift in the wind, or something else entirely that dashed her Olympic dreams and thrust her into what she called an incredibly humbling trial.

“At the time it felt like the worst thing ever,” said Martin, 26. “All those years of hard work and sacrifice going down in flames in a single second was heartbreaking.”

Since that crash, she has spent the last four years preparing to win a gold medal in London.

“Redemption is a good word for it,” Martin said. “I’ve got more maturity behind me and more experience internationally, so I’m more prepared for London.”

The success Martin achieved this go-round was that much sweeter given the fact that she received an automatic Olympic bid after the world championships in May in Birmingham, England, a result of her No. 1 ranking as determined by the BMX Power Rankings.

Four years earlier, that automatic bid had also been Martin’s to lose as she headed into that world championship race in Taiyun. Her closest competition, her fellow racer and friend Jill Kintner, was 13 points behind her. For Martin — who had been riding bikes since she was 2 and racing professionally since she was 15 — the ticket to Beijing was already punched.

But not only did her crash result in a point deficit large enough to knock Martin out of Olympic contention — she lost her bid to Kintner by 1 point — it had a second unfortunate effect. She and Kintner had strong hopes of competing in Beijing together because a cycling rule dictates that the four top-ranked countries are allowed to send two women to the Olympics. But after Martin’s wipeout, the United States lost its fourth-ranked position and the privilege of sending two women to the Games.

“In 20 minutes I went from being the lead girl to not going at all,” Martin recalled. Harsher still was that 2008 was the first year BMX biking was an Olympic event, and she missed out on her chance to be among the inaugural racers.

“I didn’t foresee it,” she said. “But it has taught me a lot about perseverance, patience and coming back.”

Martin wound up traveling to Beijing as an alternate, but she never got to participate. Her main reason for being there was to help Kintner, who won a bronze medal, with her training.

“I felt pride when Jill won her medal,” she said. “I learned gratitude, that despite not being an Olympian, I was still living an incredible dream, that I’d been able to travel the world just to pedal a bicycle.”

And Martin’s time on the periphery in China made her hungry for a chance to one day compete.

“The fire was definitely lit,” she said. “I woke up the morning after the medals were handed out in 2008 determined to prove mostly to myself that I had the talent and capability to be an Olympian, standing on the podium hearing my anthem, and I was definitely not going to let London slip through my fingers like Beijing did.”

The years since have produced several accomplishments for Martin, with her proudest one taking place in 2011 at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., which was the site of the BMX supercross World Cup. Martin became the first American woman to win the event.

“It had been a monkey on my back,” she said. “I took second many times and also third. But I finally won here on my home soil of California. That was the greatest day of my career.”

Of course, Martin hopes to trump that success in just a few short weeks.

“I look back on 2008 grateful for the experience,” she said. “Going into that race, it was all about me. I wasn’t very humble. In hindsight, it taught me a lot about myself. I feel like I am a better BMX’er, a better athlete, and a better person. It took nearly 3 years and 9 months to reach that clarity, but I’ve got it now going into London and I feel prepared.”