opinionBy Brad Morgan
South African BMX star Sifiso Nhlapo qualified for the Olympic Games by reaching the quarterfinals of the BMX World Championships in Birmingham this past weekend. Unfortunately he crashed in the semi-finals, but by then he had already achieved his goal of making it to London 2012.
It was a tough competition, with 177 elite men in action. That number had to be whittled down to 64 riders through a time trial. Nhlapo just made it, clocking 27.615 seconds to finish in 57th place as only 1.5 seconds separated the top 64 men.
He went on to place second, fourth and second in his heats to claim a spot in the quarterfinals where he placed fourth after a messy lap.
Unfortunately, in the semi-finals, a French rider went down in front of Nhlapo, leaving him with nowhere to go and he crashed out.
Thankfully, after having gone over his handlebars, no major damage was inflicted, because injuries have been something that South Africa's number one has had to deal with throughout his career.
Nhlapo's career has been filled with more than its shares of ups and downs, but he has proved resilient in the face of challenges that would have been too much to bear for many others.
Four years ago, in 2008, Nhlapo made the podium at the BMX World Championships. He finished third behind Latvian star Maris Strombergs and the American Steve Cisar, but Cisar was subsequently disqualified for doping and Nhlapo picked up the silver medal.
He qualified for the Beijing Olympics, but unfortunately crashed out in the final when in third place.
It has been far from smooth going for Nhlapo since then. In 2009, he suffered a broken neck after a big crash while training. He underwent surgery and afterwards doctor after doctor told him he needed to give up BMX racing, but Nhlapo was not about to do that.
He searched for a doctor that would back his return to racing and after finally finding the right person he diligently went through rehab. After 10 months on the side lines he was back doing what he does best.
2010 BMX World Championships
Nhlapo's return came just in time for the 2010 BMX World Championships, which took place in South Africa in Pietermaritzburg. South African BMX fans expected Nhlapo to shine, even though he had only three months of preparation under his belt, but shine he did.
He sneaked into the final after placing fourth in his semi-final following a bad start that left him in seventh place at the first corner. However, having made the final, Nhlapo made the most of his opportunity, finishing second to Latvian ace Strombergs once again.
In 2011, Nhlapo, who it seems has been around forever but is still just 23 years of age, spent six months out of action after having knee surgery. That meant he began racing in August only, which set him back again, but the man has an inner strength that seems unbreakable and is sure to make his mark once more.
To be frank, his results in 2012 have been patchy, but Nhlapo has shown an ability to produce his best on the biggest stages, as his two World Championships silver medals prove.
No doubt his form will improve significantly in the two months remaining before London 2012 because Nhlapo has one of the biggest hearts in the sport of BMX.
Look out for "Skizo 105"!