Ready for Rio: Liam Phillips

In the run-up to the Rio Olympic Games, ITV News speaks to four Olympic hopefuls in Team GB. In the latest in our series Ready for Rio, today we profile BMX rider Liam Phillips.

Liam Phillips began cycling in 1994 when he was just five years-old and within five years had won his first European BMX championship title.

He always had "dreams and aspirations to make a career out of BMX" and, until the age of 15, he thought he would have to move to the United States to do that. Then the IOC made the major decision to make BMX an Olympic sport.

"We fall under the British cycling umbrella and investment from UK Sport became part of our programme," he said.

"At 15 rather than try to move to America I moved to Manchester shortly after leaving school and I've been part of the set up ever since."

In 2008, aged 19, he made it to the quarter-final at the Beijing Olympic Games, in which BMX made its debut.

But in 2011 Liam decided to take a break from the sport for eight months and instead train in the velodrome. A sixth year without a surgery-free season "took its toll", he says.

It was then that he realised how much be loved BMX.

"I learned very quickly that I hadn't had a break from the sport for 20 years at that point. I learned very quickly why I love BMX and that's mainly because of the technical challenges and the demands.

"We build our engine in the gym but then fine tune everything here on the track and that's a massive part of why I love the sport.

"Spending eight months on the velodrome I learned very quickly that this sport is something that perhaps I'd overlooked my love and enjoyment for and ever since I've been back riding BMX I don't take one day for granted and love what I do."

  • Reflections on London 2012

Liam in training in Manchester. Credit: ITV News

At the 2012 BMX World Championships, Liam won silver but in the first race of the supercross he crashed and broke his collarbone just ten weeks before the Olympic Games in London.

Despite the injury, Liam admits he wasn't ready to win gold at London in any case.

"There were too many things that I hadn't achieved in BMX in order to win Olympic gold in London," he said. "I hadn't won a world cup, I hadn't been world champion, I hadn't won big races that would allow me to be a complete package.

"When everything was said and done when I lined up on that start gate in London I don't think I was ready to win the Olympics."

Liam will be 31 when the Tokyo Games comes around in four years time, which he says "would be old" for a BMX athlete.

So is Rio his last chance to win OIympic gold?

Born in Burnham-on-Sea, Liam now trains in Manchester. Credit: ITV News

"It's not a far fetched statement," he admits. "It's reality I think. My body takes a lot more looking after now than it did five years ago.

"I actually spent 50 per cent of my time getting treatment and seeing the physios and medical team as I do actually training. Your body can't take the stresses that we put our bodies under in training but then also the crashes.

"Whilst I'm still competitive and still capable of winning big races then I'll race but the minute that isn't possible I'll know and my days of competing will be over."

  • 'Lethal' track in Rio

Competitors take part in the International BMX Cycling Challenge at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games BMX cycling track in October 2015. Credit: Reuters

Liam and his team had concerns about the Olympic BMX track in Rio when they first visited, fearing somebody would suffer a career-ending injury "immediately". To his relief, changes have now been made.

"In layman's terms we qualify and race on tracks of a standard, say of a 10m high diving board, and we turned up to Rio for the test event and it was like a 20m high diving board," he said.

"It was never going to present the sport in the manner we want the sport to be presented. That's not a selfish thing as to say 'I can't ride the track because of X, Y or Z.

"I am extremely confident that if that track was open for 10 minutes then there would have been an athlete with a career-ending injury immediately, it was really severe.

"We've been back since and the track has been changed. The danger that we had was that we would have been fighting against the track rather than fighting one another."