Olympic hopefuls Kyle Bennett and Jill Kintner captured elite titles Saturday at the USA Cycling BMX National Championships in Texas. BMX will make its Olympic debut in Beijing, China this summer.
Ranked number two in the world entering Saturday's contest, Bennett took the holeshot out of the gate in the eight-man final and held off the star-studded field, including reigning national champion and the number-three ranked rider Donny Robinson to claim the stars-and-stripes jersey in the elite men's event.
In the elite women's race, it was a battle of one-and-two as Kintner and Arielle Martin rode away from the rest of the field to finish in the same order as the pair stands in the current national BMX Rankings – the primary factor that goes into selecting the Olympic long team. The two finished neck-in-neck, the same way the two roommates fare in the standings with only two points now between them.
"We train together in the best facility in the world, we're roommates, we definitely push each other and that has helped separate us," said Martin. "It all works itself out on the track."
The elite men's championship class began with 31 of the top American BMX athletes lining up for three qualifying moto rounds, with the top eight advancing to the main. In the ensuing eight-man main, Bennett took the early lead and held off a hard charging Danny Caluag to take home the national championship and eight more points toward the Olympic Games.
"This is probably the most competitive national championship race in the world and that makes the title even more special," said Bennett. "Even though the track is very different from what we'll see coming up it is very good for my confidence."
The elite women were split into a pair of qualifiers which set up a main stand-off between eight of the top names in women's BMX. Kintner and Martin set themselves apart jumping to a lead out of the gate. In the end it was Kintner holding off Martin to win the stars-and-stripes jersey with Stephanie Barragan capturing the bronze.
In the other two championship classes, Denzel Stein and Terra Nichols earned national titles in the junior men's and women's races respectively. A local hero, Stein beat out junior men's rankings leader Logan Collins to earn the stars-and-stripes jersey. Nichols outperformed Alise Post, the heavy favourite and top-ranked rider, who placed third behind runner-up Shelbi Long after dominating qualifying heats.
In addition to national titles, championship class athletes were awarded points towards their USA Cycling BMX Ranking, which will help determine the long team from which the final Olympic Team will be chosen. The US is expected to contend for medals in both the men's and women's Olympic competitions.