From BMX bandit to dual world champion… Caroline Buchanan loves life on two wheels. By Richard Cooke.


Tearing up the track: Caroline Buchanan, 23, cyclist

Caroline Buchanan represents Australia in BMX and mountain biking. A competitor at the London 2012 Olympics, she was also a dual world champion in 2013, at the BMX World Championships in New Zealand and the Four-Cross World Championships in Austria. 

Richard Cooke Of the different disciplines you race in, it seems as though BMX is your favourite.

Caroline Buchanan I’ve got a soft spot for BMX, because of starting so young, at the age of five. The fact it’s an Olympic sport also makes it the main focus, and the one where this whole journey began.

RC You were a BMX bandit then.

CB BMX bandit for sure. Lots of girls who start in the sport have older brothers, and my older brother got me into it. My dad raced as well. The whole family went away to all the state races, and the national races and got better and better. When I was nine I was doing taekwondo, and my parents said, “Well, you can either go to Paris for the BMX World Championships or you can get your black belt in taekwondo.” I was like, “I want to go to Paris Disneyland.” From there I never looked back.

RC That was what opened your eyes?

CB Yeah, I wanted to be a world champion and that really started the journey.

RC And when did mountain bikes come into it?

CB It wasn’t until about the age of 15. My brother was always trying to get me off the BMX and doing other cycling disciplines. And I had a lot of other friends at the time who were into mountain biking, so I went along to a downhill race. I loved it and it became this passion, to not only do BMX but mountain biking. It’s been the best thing for me. The crossover has made me a better athlete.

RC It’s very rare now for people to be dual internationals in different sports. How common is it in the cycling world?

CB It’s not very common. I’ve been compared lately to [Dutch cyclist] Marianne Vos, who was a dual world champion in the same year. She’s the only other female cyclist in the world who’s won more than one discipline in a year. She did the cycle cross and road cycling. Last year, when I aimed for three world titles, on three different bikes, in three different countries around the world in 66 days, it was a massive ask. It was a whole year of planning and trying to do lots of endurance training. And to walk away with two world titles was absolutely amazing.

RC Now your focus is on the Rio Olympics. London 2012 was unfortunately your only real hiccup. You were gold medal favourite and had a bad start. Do you want revenge?

CB I wouldn’t say revenge. I think I already did that last year. My first international race back from the London Olympics was the BMX World Championships. My mistake that I made in London was at the final moment on the start gate, where I just wasn’t ready for the pressure of the Olympic Games, I ticked all the boxes and just [missed] executing in that final moment… I knew I had to lay those demons to rest. And when I arrived up on the gate next to Mariana Pajón, who’s from Colombia and won the Olympic Games, I had a big smile on my face and I knew what I needed to do. That was my redemption moment. I managed to get out and cut her off and take the win and she got fifth. Now it’s just making sure that I am 100 per cent ready for Rio. 

RC You’ve also had some other difficulties. Your brother had a very severe injury and your family’s house was burnt down in the Canberra bushfires. Have those kind of events added to your resilience? 

CB Yeah, definitely. I would have been 12 years old when the Canberra bushfires were on and I lost everything, my whole family lost everything, my grandma lost everything. We literally ran out with the shoes on our feet, fireballs in the air and getting burnt. Everything seems to happen for a reason, and I owe my successes last year a lot to what happened at the London Olympic Games. I wouldn’t change anything.

RC Do you think you’ll end up having to choose one type of bike?

CB At the moment the next two years are really focused on Rio and BMX. I was quite burnt out at the end of last year. You can be a jack of all trades and master of none. I want to definitely win a medal and then go on to the next challenge.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 27, 2014 as "Tearing up the track".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.