Liam Phillips Olympics
Liam Phillips will be Team GB’s main BMX medal hope when the 2016 Olympic Games kick off in Rio de Janeiro this summer – but what is his Olympic record?
The Englishman has been on track at the previous two Olympics, first in Beijing in 2008, when BMX racing was first introduced to the Games, and secondly at London 2012, where he competed just 10 weeks after having surgery on his collarbone.
He’ll be gunning for gold at the Rio de Janiero games this time around, and after winning the World Championships in 2013 and becoming the first man to ever win the UCI Supercross World Cup series two years running in 2014 and 2015, he stands a cracking chance of doing exactly that.
But how has he done at previous Olympic Games? Well...
- Beijing 2008: Liam is eliminated in the quarter-final heat stage
- London 2012: Liam reaches the final before crashing out and missing out on a medal
...But of course there's a lot more to it than that. We spoke to the rider recently for our Liam Phillips feature interview, and he revealed that he believes having two Games already under his belt will prove a huge advantage come August in Brazil.
Here’s how Liam got on in the Beijing and London Olympic Games in the words of the man himself.
Liam Phillips on the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
Beijing 2008 Olympic BMX Racing format
32 men competed, first performing two runs of the BMX track in a time trial to determine their seeding for the knockout rounds that follow – with only their best run counting as their official time.
In Beijing there were four quarter-finals, made up of eight riders each. Each quarter-final consisted of three runs, with each rider being awarded a point-per-place at the end of each run – so if you finish first you get one point, and if you finish eighth you get eight points – and the four riders with the least amount of points at the end of the heat progressing through to the semis.
The semi-finals were run in the same manner, with the best four riders from each heat progressing through to the final, where the winner of a single race was awarded the gold.
How did Liam do at the Beijing 2008 Olympics?
A 19-year-old Liam was first out of the gates for the time trials at Beijing 2008, recording a time of 37.392 round the course and earning him a seeding of 28th place, just under two seconds behind Mike Day, who would qualify as top seed with a time of 35.692 seconds.
Competing in the second heat, Liam finished seven out of eight overall, finishing fifth place in his first run, sixth place in the second run and seventh place in the third and final run. He ended with a total tally of 18 points, four off fourth place US qualifier Kyle Bennett, and was eliminated in the first round as a result. Latvia’s Maris Strombergs took the gold.
Liam on the Racing and Experience at the Beijing 2008 Olympics
“I was in a very fortunate position because I was there [at the Olympic Games] and I wouldn’t have even been ranked in the top 50 at that point," he told us.
“British Cycling basically believed in my abilities and sent me to that event solely to gain experience for London, really. There was a vast amount of data that showed that most athletes who win medals at Olympic Games have already competed at an Olympics before – something like 82 percent of athletes that win medals.
“There’s a huge amount to learn and benefit from having already having been to a Games. Even the basic stuff like eating your dinner; you’re sat in a dining hall that can seat 12,000 at one time and it’s just insane.
“You can certainly get overawed by the whole occasion and what the Olympics is and I feel like that’s one of the biggest challenges.
“I was the very, very first rider to actually do anything in competition in BMX in the Olympics – doing a time trial. I was the first guy to come in off the ramp and that is pretty special.
“It was something that I look back on with fond memories and that helped me in London for sure..."
“At the time I did get quite a hard time from the wider BMX public worldwide though. They saw the Olympics as it should be the top 32 fastest guys in the world going to the Games, but as is the same with all sports – it’s never the case.
“There are so many sports where the World Championships that year are harder than the Olympics because there are limited numbers in the field and even the top nations in the world still only get to send three guys, whereas in the World Champs they might have eight or nine. The field is always deeper at World Champs but for me, I loved every minute of Beijing.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time and I learned so much in Beijing just from how bonkers it is! It’s so surreal. It was something that I look back on with fond memories and that helped me in London for sure."
Liam Phillips on the London 2012 Olympic Games
London 2012 Olympic BMX Racing format
32 riders were again involved in the Olympic BMX Racing at London 2012, with a time trial again being used to decide seedings, though this time around the time trial only consisted of one run.
Riders were then split up into four quarter-finals, each of which would this time comprise of five runs, though the points-per-place system would remain.
The top two riders after three runs would advance automatically to the next round, and not have to compete in the final two runs, and the remaining top riders after all five runs had been complete would join them in the semi-finals.
The semi-finals then comprised of just three runs, like in Beijing, with the top four riders from each heat progressing to the one-run final, where the gold medal would be awarded to the winner.
How did Liam Phillips do at the London 2012 Olympics?
A 25-year-old Liam arrived at the London 2012 Olympic Games just ten weeks after surgery on his collarbone, having injured himself in the World Championships that same year, where he had taken home the silver medal in the time trial before crashing out the following day.
After recovering from his injury, Liam qualified with a seeding of 12th place in the time trials, finishing his run in 38.719 seconds, 0.94 seconds behind Dutch time trial winner Raymon van der Biezen.
Competing in the second heat of the quarter-finals, Liam would qualify in second place after three runs having finished second behind USA’s Connor Fields in each race, and advance to the semi-finals without having to race in runs four or five.
Liam would then finish third in semi-final one overall, coming second, third and fourth in runs to qualify for the final behind Connor Fields and Raymon van der Biezen.
The final of the London Games was a huge disappointment for Liam, after he unclipped from his pedals and crashed out early on having been quickest out of the start gate. As a result he finished in eight place in the final with a time of 2:11.918, with Latvia’s Maris Strombergs again taking the gold.
Liam on His Injury and Training Before the London 2012 Olympic Games
“I had my surgery to put the plate in exactly 10 weeks before the first day of competition at London 2012," he said.
“It’s weird looking back because you look at things differently than at the time. I remember going to the hospital and being over the moon that I had only broken my collarbone. I thought it was much worse than that. It was a horrendous crash and I don’t wish for too many of them in my career.
“After a few weeks of having the injury I found out there were some other injuries; I had broken my shoulder blade too, but nothing that was going to keep me out for longer than the collarbone anyway. So I remained really upbeat and positive and I was still able to get some really good work done.
“Obviously you roll the dice at that point, but 10 weeks is a long time to be able to get things back in order..."
“Obviously you roll the dice at that point, but 10 weeks is a long time to be able to get things back in order. We basically split things into five week blocks. The first five weeks I didn’t touch my BMX bike at all and just did stuff on the stationary bike and did some good gym stuff, but you’ve got to be careful when your collarbone has been plated, because it’s an artificial anchor and it makes your body and mind feel like your body and your shoulder has completely healed. Of course it’s only being held together by a metal plate.
“I thought I was ready to go but I was being held back by the medical team which was a wise thing, looking back now. The first five weeks was very much gym focused and the final five weeks was really heavily track focused. I was still able to get a huge amount of work done, and I wasn’t in as good shape as I was before the crash at the World Championships – I have been in better shape since then but I was in unbelievable shape – but I know looking back that I had the physical form to win that race.
“I was still in good physical shape going into London all things considered. I think that’s testament to the guys around me really. We had a clear plan from day one."
Liam Phillips on the Racing at the London 2012 Olympics
“If you look back at the final race, I was leading the final coming out of the first ramp then I was in second then I was in third going round the turn and I think if I had had a bit more exposure being on the podium at big races leading up to that I would’ve been on the podium at the Olympics too," he continued.
“I’m obviously lucky enough to have had that now; I’ve won some big races over quite a few years and I think that the experience I’ve gained from that will set me up well for the summer [in Rio].
“It was definitely different to Beijing. In Beijing they had people in the crowd holding boards up telling people when to cheer, and then obviously you got to London and there were 6,000 people there to watch you.
“For me, I just felt so humbled by the whole experience. I thought every single day that I was going to go out there and do the best I could, because I couldn’t believe that 6,000 people, the vast majority of whom weren’t anything to do with BMX, had spent their hard earned money watching a sport that isn’t a traditional Olympic sport and was still new to the Olympics. That for me was crazy.
“David Beckham and his kids and the Prime Minister were all there on finals day, and it was a surreal moment. It’s not what usually happens at BMX races! I’d said on numerous occasions that if I could race that whole competition again tomorrow I would do it in a heartbeat. I don’t think there will ever be a competition that will come close to that. It was just amazing."
“It was obviously massively disappointing not to have capitalised on that opportunity, just given the fact that it was in our home nation, but we never actually had any benefits during the Olympics, other than the supporter’s level and the fact that we didn’t have to travel anywhere else in the world. We didn’t get any more time on the track than any other rider from any other country.
“I’ve said on numerous occasions that I was going into that to win the Olympics. Of course I was. That was the plan for years leading up to that event, but it’s such a tall order to be able to win an event like that when you haven’t actually won any big races leading up to that. I learned a lot from that and hopefully it’ll help me again in the summer."
Liam Phillips on the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games
Rio de Janeiro Olympic BMX Racing format
32 riders will compete in a single time trial to decide their seeding. Then, as in Beijing, they will proceed to a three-race quarter-final where the fastest four riders across the three races will qualify for the three-race semi-final.
The same system will apply in the semi-finals until eight riders have qualified for the one-run final.
The women will proceed directly from seeding to semi-finals.
Liam Phillips on His Season Ahead of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games
Liam said: “Our seasons change a little bit [on Olympic years] because we do a lot more races earlier on, and it’s all in quick succession before the 11 or 12 week window where there is no racing before the Olympics.
“There’s always going to be some sort of lottery element to it, but I’d like to think that the last couple of years have minimised that element..."
“For me, it’s obviously been a massive focus of mine for a long time [to win the Olympics] and it’s always been in the back of my mind. The only thing that really changes on an Olympic year though is that target of Rio just becomes more prominent the closer it gets. I’m solely focused on the world cups and then the World Champs that in Colombia that come before it at the moment.
“I’ve only got three or four races before the Olympics, so I’m just looking to do the best I can at each stop. I like to look at numbers and I know that I did 53 races all in last year, including heats and everything, and I won 47. I’m looking to replicate that and nudge it up as well. If I can win more races than that then going into the Olympics I’m putting myself in the best possible situation to be successful. That’s all you can do.
“There’s always going to be some sort of lottery element to it, but I’d like to think that the last couple of years have minimised that element. I’ve produced performances that have been good enough to get on the podium regularly and that should put me in good stead in Rio."