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Team USA

Hannah Roberts Sets Sights on Fourth World Title in BMX Freestyle

By: Jim Rutberg  November 01, 2022

Hannah Roberts is making her younger self proud as she eyes up a fourth rainbow jersey at the 2022 UCI Urban World Championships.

Hannah Roberts is remarkably grounded for a woman who flies through the air. At just 21 years old, she is a 3-time World Champion in BMX Freestyle and earned a silver medal in the sport’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. With the 2022 UCI BMX Freestyle World Championships coming up in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, starting November 9, Roberts is a favorite for the top step of the podium and her fourth rainbow jersey.

About BMX Freestyle

For those who may be less familiar with the sport, BMX Freestyle is one of the few judged cycling disciplines. This means riders compete individually, with a predetermined amount of time to complete a run. Performances are judged on a 100-point scale based on difficulty, originality, style, flow, risk, height, and execution of tricks during the allotted time. Competitive BMX Freestyle takes place on a course featuring ramps, bowls, and obstacles, all within a 30m by 50m Olympic-regulation park.

Riding the Highs and Lows

Hannah Roberts has been at the forefront of BMX Freestyle as the sport emerged on the world stage. In 2017, at the age of 17, she won the inaugural UCI BMX Freestyle World Championships. She followed with a bronze medal in 2018 and her second rainbow jersey in 2019. Add to that a perfect sweep of the BMX World Cup in 2019 and she more than earned her ticket to Tokyo.

As with many athletes who reach great heights, Hannah struggled through some deep lows. As a role model for younger athletes, she is candid about the challenges she overcame, as well as those she still faces.

Following her World Championship performance in 2017, Hannah struggled with depression and anxiety through the 2018 season. “The whole 2018 season was so rough,” she commented. “I know what it’s like to be a younger athlete and have all that pressure. You don’t want to disappoint anybody. But I was riding for other people and there wasn’t any real purpose in it for me anymore. I had some of the worst results of my life.”

“Physically and mentally, I just wasn’t taking care of myself,” Hannah continued. “Yes, I got third at Worlds, but when I came home it felt like everything I knew was falling apart. I needed to create a shift in my life. It took 4-5 months for me to figure out how to handle my thoughts and inner self. But that led me to 2019, which ended up being the best season of my life, because I was listening to myself.”

Lessons in Listening

In a sport where tricks can go from spectacular to disastrous in a blink of an eye, and in which the progression to bigger and riskier tricks keeps accelerating, a rider’s mentality is as important as their physical strength and talent. Hannah learned to check in with herself daily, and even in the middle of training sessions, to guide her decisions about training. “I drive an hour each way to train, and sometimes you just have to change the reason you’re going,” she explained. “If it’s not a good day for me, I’ll still go and hang out with Perris [Bennegas] and my coach Ryan [Nyquist], and pedal around a bit. But when those days hit, I know instantly because now I know how I think on good days and bad days.”

By tuning in to her brain instead of fighting against it, Hannah uses her good days to focus on learning new tricks and pushing boundaries. And on the days when uncertainty or lack of focus could make tricks more dangerous, she refocuses on other, less risky aspects of training and doesn’t make matters worse by beating herself up about it.

Olympic Experience

Having rediscovered her purpose for riding, Hannah ripped through the 2019 BMX Freestyle season. She won all four of the UCI World Cup events and claimed the series title, and she won the Pan Am Championships and USA Cycling National Championships that same season. The first U.S. athlete to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in BMX Freestyle, she decided she wanted to go to the Olympics as the reigning World Champion. Although she won the 2019 World Championship, the COVID-19 pandemic put much of the world, including the 2020 Olympics, on hold.

Qualifying early turned out to be a challenge of its own. On one hand, Hannah had the certainty of knowing she already had a ticket to Tokyo. On the other hand, that certainty removed the necessity to continue pushing herself. “It was hard, mentally. My teammate, Perris, was such a big part of my Olympic experience, and we talked about it a lot. She always had the motivation to go out and ride and learn new tricks no matter how sore she was or how tired, because she still had to qualify,” Hannah recalled. “For me, I knew I was qualified. I knew I wanted to get better, but especially during the hardest parts of the pandemic, it was sometimes hard to find a reason to get better right then.”

Once the worst of the pandemic had passed and the Olympics were rescheduled, Hannah realized she still needed a way to jumpstart her training. She found it by turning inward.

“When I didn’t feel like riding, I would tell myself, ‘If I was 8 years old and looking at my life right now, I would do everything in my power to continue the way I’m going.’ When I was 8 you couldn’t get me off my bike, so I just wanted to make my younger self proud.”

Although the Tokyo Olympic Games were postponed to August 2021, Hannah won the 2021 UCI BMX Freestyle World Championship in June, thereby fulfilled her goal of going to the Olympics as the reigning World Champion. At the Olympics, she won a silver medal, despite competing with injuries to both ankles.

Going for Rainbow #4 in 2022

As preparation for the UCI BMX Freestyle World Championships, Hannah’s 2022 season has had its ups and downs. In March, she dislocated her shoulder in a crash during a team camp. She recovered to earn a silver medal at USA Cycling National Championships in May behind her close friend fellow Olympian Perris Benegas. Then, in June, despite another shoulder injury, Hannah finished a strong 4th place in the UCI World Cup in Montpellier, France. By July, she put it all together to take the win at the UCI World Cup in Brussels, Belgium.

Although she had great momentum coming off the World Cup victory in Belgium, the biggest challenge for this season has been the long wait before World Championships. With so much time between July’s World Cup and November’s World Championships, it’s been difficult to balance the desire to rest and heal from injuries with the need to stay focused on World Championships. “It’s easier when there are events back-to-back-to-back and you only have a few weeks between them,” Hannah commented. Nonetheless, with World Championships right around the corner, Hannah is feeling healthy, fit, and hungry for a chance to earn her fourth rainbow jersey.

How to Watch the 2022 UCI Urban World Championships