Australian BMX star Saya Sakakibara was one of the faces of the nation’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic campaign.
In the lead-up to the Games, Australia became enamoured with Sakakibara, a mixed-race cyclist with cultural ties to Japan, who was riding not only for herself but for her older brother Kai.
The Sakakibara siblings had long dreamed of going to the Olympics together and were destined to do so in Tokyo before Kai suffered a life-changing brain injury after crashing heavily in a World Cup race in Bathurst in 2020.
Saya Sakakibara at the 2023 AusCycling BMX Racing National Championships.
In a cruel twist of fate, Sakakibara’s hope of a podium finish in Tokyo was lost after she suffered a horror fall in the third run of her semi final.
But now, all eyes turn to the Olympic year and the build-up to Paris, with the 24-year-old again a favourite for a podium placing.
« This season was a confidence booster but when it finished, I did not think, ‘Yep, I’m definitely going to win [in Paris] next year’, » Sakakibara says.
At her second Olympics, Sakakibara is hoping to take what she learned in Tokyo and be better prepared for Paris. Part of this includes rewriting the fairytale ending to her Olympic story so that it centres on herself.
« My dream has always been to win a gold medal at the Olympics and that has not changed, » she says.