Portsmouth BMX cyclist Declan Brooks: How Covid-19 has helped me win a place at the Tokyo Olympics
A BMX star who has spent his entire life on bikes has made Olympic history after being unveiled as the first male BMX freestyle park discipline competitor to represent Team GB.
But the Portsmouth-born star rider acknowledged he can count himself 'lucky' to be able to compete against the world's best in his sport in Tokyo this summer.
Former Cams Hill School pupil Declan, 24, has been confirmed as Team GB's sole male BMX freestyle park representative, with the discipline featuring in an Olympics for the first time ever this summer.
BMX first became an Olympic medal sport in Beijing in 2008.
Yet Declan, who spent his childhood honing his skills at Southsea skate park, insisted just making it to the Games is not a cause for celebration - he wants to come away with a medal in Tokyo.
And the Portchester-raised cyclist claims the Covid-19 pandemic has provided him with the perfect opportunity of achieving a podium place in the biggest event of his career to date.
He said: ‘It was unbelievable [finding out he was in the Olympic team].
‘When I started out 15 years ago I never thought I’d be in this situation because BMX freestyle has never been an Olympic event before.
“It’s a blessing that now I’ve hit my peak, it’s just come in because there are so many riders before me that would have loved this opportunity.
‘To be the first male to go to represent Team GB is a huge achievement and I’ve just got my friends and family to thank for their support.
‘If you’d asked me a year ago, I wasn’t probably a medal potential rider but during the Covid-19 and lockdown stuff that’s really helped me out in terms of getting to the next level of my riding.
‘I think this Olympic route has helped me to get there, if this Olympic route hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been as good as I am now.
‘It just gave me that extra push and all the other guys on the team have pushed me to get that extra bit that I never knew I had, so Covid has been the best thing that’s happened to my career.'
But he recognises how fortunate he is to be competing in Tokyo – he was knocked unconscious after an attempted double back flip at the World Championships earlier this month in Montpellier, France, went wrong.
Fortunately, he suffered no serious injuries and is preparing to return to riding ahead of the Olympics in August next week having passed various concussion tests.
He admitted attempting the move was a risk so close to the Olympics, although Brooks believes he still laid down a statement to his international rivals with his performance at the Worlds.
Declan, who during last year's first national lockdown trained in a gym set up in his grandfather's garage in Portchester, recalled: 'I did a double black flip – it’s one of the biggest tricks in BMX – but I decided to do it at the end of the run because it’s worth more points then.
‘If you do it at the start you get good points as well, but doing it when you’re tired at the end, you get a crazy amount of points.
‘I practiced it at home before that but I just got it a little bit wrong, came in slightly too heavy on my front end, and just knocked myself out.
‘It was quite a bad one, to be fair, but I’ve passed all my concussion tests so we’re all clear on that front.
‘There really was [worries for his Olympic hopes after crashing]. I decided I wanted to go for it, even though I knew I was going to be at the Olympics at that point.
‘But it was still a World Championships, it’s still a huge event, so I wanted to stamp my authority which I could have had going into the Olympics.
‘I did show that and people definitely know that now, I’ve just got to come back from it [the injury]. I got really lucky so I’m happy.'
Declan is one of 26 riders selected for the GB cycling team for Tokyo, and one of 16 who will be making their Games debut.
His mother, Kelly Pryer, said she and his father Lee were ‘overwhelmed with joy’ when they heard the news.
The 47-year-old said: ‘He started walking at eight months, and by the age of one he was on a bike – he’s spent his whole life riding.
‘It’s been a real rollercoaster but we are honestly so proud of him and how far he has come, he’s worked so hard for this and deserves every bit of success that comes his way.
‘When we found out on Monday, his dad and I were emotional wrecks. But the support we’ve seen from locals is amazing and hopefully that will spur Declan on to win an Olympic medal.’
Six of the squad – Geraint Thomas, Ed Clancy, Jason Kenny, Laura Kenny, Elinor Barker and Katie Archibald – have all won Olympic gold.
Jason Kenny has won six of them, putting him joint top of the all-time GB Olympic list alongside fellow cyclist Chris Hoy.
Laura Kenny is GB’s most successful female Olympian in any sport with four golds – having won the team pursuit and omnium in 2012 and 2016.
Ed Clancy, meanwhile, will be aiming to win his fourth consecutive team pursuit gold medal.