It’s another gold for Team GB as Bethany Shriever sets a new standard for British BMX-ing. In doing so, she’s proved a huge point for inequality in sport.
When Bethany Shriver won gold in the BMX race at the Tokyo Olympics last night, she didn’t just set a new record for Team GB. The champion, who had been rejected for funding by UK Sport, also proved it was possible to overcome the sexist barriers presented to female athletes – and win big.
She won her race in a storming 44.358 seconds, shaving off less than 0.1 second off of Columbian rider’s Pajon’s race time to take home gold. Following her success, congratulations poured in from the likes of Liam Gallagher, as well as fellowTeam GB Olympians, past and present.
Shriever said that she was inspired by her teammate, Kye Whyte, who took the silver moments before her win: “I was watching him as I was going up. I was almost crying because he got a silver. I had to keep my cool and reset and just dig in,” she told the BBC.
Talking about her own win, Shriever admitted that she was still “in shock”. “To even be here is an achievement in itself. To make a final is another achievement in itself. To win a medal, let alone a gold medal, I’m over the moon.”
She’s not just being modest. For Shriever to get to the Tokyo Games, it took more than just a good training regime and an athlete’s mindset. It took money. In fact, it took £50,000 worth of self-funded money after UK Sport refused to fund female riders.
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Shriever was already widely acknowledged to be a shining star in British cycling, having won the Junior World Championships in 2017 and holding the UK National crown for four years in a row. However, she was told that Sport UK wouldn’t continue to fund her international competitions, and that meant she wouldn’t be able to secure the points she needed to qualify for the games.
“My rivals who are all around the world are doing this full time and are funded, so I’m the only one who’s not really getting much help,” she told the BBC in 2019. “It is worrying and I don’t want my dream to compete at Tokyo to be taken away just because of money.”
Sport UK’s decision to cut funding came after the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, at a time when no British rider had ever won an Olympic BMX medal. The fact that men’s BMXing was still funded while the women’s money pot was cut highlights huge inequalities in cycling; currently, there’s no female Tour De France and there is still huge disparity in prize money in some races. Male competitors in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a race in Belgium, can look forward to winning€16,000 (£13,625) while women compete for a measily €930 (£800).
There’s no doubt that what Shriever has achieved is incredible. But while this is an inspiring story of a woman overcoming obstacles to chase her dreams, the reality is that she should have received the same money, access and opportunities as her male counterparts. We’d like to see any excuse for cutting women’s BMX funding after last night’s display.
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