By Martyn Herman
TOKYO (Reuters) – When Kye Whyte pressed his front wheel against the starting gate before launching down the ramp at Ariake Urban Park in Tokyo on Thursday, it was a landmark moment for a south-London BMX racing dynasty.
The 21-year-old is the youngest of three brothers to emerge from the renowned Peckham BMX Club, co-founded by their father Nigel and widely respected in the community for helping steer youth away from crime.
Formed in 2004 at a dilapidated track wedged between a block of flats in an area blighted by gang crime, the Peckham club has become a magnet for kids seeking a way to keep off the troubled streets. It is where Kye honed his talent for the adrenaline-fuelled sport of BMX racing and which he now hopes will deliver an Olympic medal to add to the club’s impressive honors board.
He remains right on track, too, with three solid rides qualifying him for Friday’s semi-finals when members of the Peckham club and his family will be watching and cheering on a big screen in the early hours of the morning. “It was challenging; it was hot. The track is longer, so it is more tiring, but it has been a good day,” he said.
“I would have liked to have done better, but it is good to get the nerves out of the way.” Whyte began riding a BMX at the tender age of three, following in the wheel tracks of his brothers Daniel and Tre. Soon afterward, Nigel and radio DJ and TV presenter Michael Pusey, known as Ck Flash, founded the club with a few riders and precious little kit.
“I’ll never forget people laughing at us, laughing at my sons because of the bikes we had,” Nigel recalls in an interview with huck.com in 2018. No one is laughing now. In 2013 a new track was built – the community’s pride and a place where any aspiring rider wants to be seen.
Daniel was a European champion while Tre finished third at the 2014 world championships, beaten only by BMX greats Australian Sam Willoughby and Canadian Tory Nyhaug. Tre was surprisingly overlooked for the 2016 Rio Games — a decision Kye finds mystifying, and last year, he was the quickest on the British team before COVID hit.
Disillusioned, Tre quit and is now pursuing a new career in scooter racing in Italy. “I’ll be riding for myself and my brothers,” Kye says. Should he claim Britain’s first Olympic BMX medal on Friday, it will be the culmination of a sometimes rocky journey.
His first call-up to British Cycling’s talent group ended with him being knocked unconscious in a crash and suffering a brain bleed. He spent five days in an induced coma in intensive care and was off the bike for a year.
“I couldn’t tolerate light and got dizzy every day. When I finally got back, I was being sick in every session,” he told Reuters shortly before his selection for Tokyo. Whyte admits that initially, he struggled to turn himself into a dedicated athlete after the carefree days at Peckham.
Moving to British Cycling’s Manchester hub in 2018 meant a new ultra-disciplined lifestyle. “At first, I didn’t enjoy it at all. I had a bad attitude to training, was late all the time, didn’t want to train, I was not a good athlete when I joined,” he said.
“In London, I trained once a week, slept at 3am. When I started training in Manchester, I was knackered before I even got on the bike. But when I realized that all the training was making me faster, it clicked in my head, and I thought this is my job, and there’s no point wishing I was back in London.”
Whyte hopes that the youngsters watching him on TV back home will be inspired to make good decisions. “Growing up in Peckham, I was known as the wheely kid or the BMX kid, not part of (the gang culture),” he said. “BMX gave me respect for my elders and for myself,” Whyte says. “It’s kept me on the straight and narrow.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)