She started out on a second-hand bike and only made it to Tokyo, thanks, in part, to crowdfunding support.
Yet, against all odds, Bethany Shriever, who worked part-time as a teaching assistant to cover costs, has struck gold in Japan, with her mother hailing the feat as “absolutely amazing”.
Her triumph on the BMX despite UK Sport pulling funding came on a morning when Britain’s heavily-back team of rowers were sent packing without a single gold medal.
Having got up at 2am to watch the race at home in Finchingfield, Essex, the 22-year-old’s mother, Kate, told Telegraph Sport her daughter’s feat had made a “hard few years” all worthwhile.
“It’s been a hard few years, but she wanted to carry on, and so we said we would support her all the way,” the proud mother said. Even in recent months, there were significant doubts that she would get to Tokyo. Shriever had not competed for 18 months due to the pandemic. British Cycling eventually funded her trip, but anxiety mounted at home after her father, Paul, was redundant from his advertising production job.
“We’ve just done a FaceTime, and she just couldn’t believe it,” Kate added. “It’s been a dream since she was nine years old. For women in BMX and for the sport, it’s just such a good thing that she’s done. The only elite female BMX rider in the UK – she has to qualify on her own. It’s been a really tough journey. Just a couple of months ago, it was questionable whether she would go because of Covid. She hadn’t raced for 18 months. To actually get there and get a bar of gold is just fantastic, unbelievable.”
With Paul now back at work, things are looking up again for the Shriever family. Bethany, her mother, explained, is “over the moon” about her surprise gold.
UK Sport withdrew funding for the sport around six years ago, prompting Bethany and her parents to scrimp and save to maintain her in the sport. British Cycling eventually agreed to support her if she moved to Manchester, but that came only after the family had funded her entirely on their own for two-and-a-half years.
“We funded her for maybe two and a half years, where she had to compete at the World Cup to get the points,” mother Kate added. Bethany had resorted to raising around £50,000 on crowdfunding. “Then we had a meeting with British Cycling because obviously Bethany is panicking and she needs his help. And they said, ‘we will help her if she moves to Manchester’. She moved to Manchester just over two years ago, just before lockdown, and then it’s just been working really hard since then. She’s been so focused on it.”
In a thrilling race on Friday, Shriever held off two-time Olympic champion Mariana Pajón from Colombia to win on her Olympic debut. She collapsed on the track afterward, saying she could not feel her legs. Shriever’s gold meant Britain became the third country, after France and the Netherlands, to win in all four cycling disciplines – along with mountain bike, road, and track – since BMX was introduced to the Olympics program in 2008.
“She was absolutely amazing,” her mother added. “Today and yesterday she has gone into this Olympics with the right mindset and just wanting to just enjoy the riding. Everything just clicked into place today, which is amazing.”
In the men’s event, Kye Whyte – the “Prince of Peckham” – finished 0.114 seconds behind Dutchman Niek Kimmann to claim silver.
Shriever’s family said they had no issue with Whyte having received more funding prior to the Games.
“We’ve always said, ‘it doesn’t matter if you don’t get any sponsors… we’ll use everything you’ve got to support you’,” Kate added. “That’s what we’ve done. For her to be where she is now, it’s just amazing.”
“It’s very very expensive to do on your own, plus buying your own kit,” Kate added. “I mean she has some sponsors that give her bikes but no financial sponsors at all. We’ve done it all ourselves.”
At Tokyo, the family’s best hopes were a final place, but confidence grew as she was “so happy and relaxed in herself, which is just amazing”, Kate added.
“Every message that she’s been sending us – ‘I really love the track’ – it was all just really positive,” the office manager said. “But we never dreamed of gold. We dreamed of a final. That was the aim. It was just to make the final.”
The family said their “normal” background shows anyone can dare to dream about the Olympics. “When your kid is getting into sport, you don’t know if it was going to be a fad or whatever,” Kate added. “Her brother started as well, but it was always second hand stuff. She’s never been the one who has wanted to splash out. She would just ride whatever.”