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Olympic BMX finalist Sifiso Nhlapo says a spate of injury setbacks over the last few years has made him a better athlete.
Nhlapo is trying to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games and will be looking for a first place at the UCI BMX World Championships in Birmingham in May.
As a 21-year-old, the cyclist competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games where BMX racing was showcased for the first time, but crashed out in the final. He turns 25 next week.
“That experience I’ve learnt over the last four years has definitely helped me grow as an athlete and being injured for those two years has shown me my true character and my true potential to come back after a hard time,” Nhlapo said.
He has been plagued by injuries since the Beijing Games, suffering a possible career-ending setback in 2009 when he crashed in training before the last round of the European Championships. He broke his neck, fracturing two vertebrae.
After 10 months of rehabilitation Nhlapo was back on the bike.
In 2010, he finished second in the 2010 World Championships in Pietermaritzburg.
Despite another injury setback at the beginning of last year, when he had to have reconstructive surgery to his anterior cruciate ligament, he is still a great Olympic Games medal prospect.
“It is just the name of the game. Unfortunately for me I was injured for a big portion of last year, so that was a bit disappointing and I sort of really had to get back into shape and just race myself back into form,” Nhlapo said.
“It has obviously been tough because I haven’t really had much time and everything has been sort of rushed, but I believe in the work I put in and I believe in my support, and hopefully I get the job done at the end of May.”
He was crowned SA BMX champion at last month's National BMX Championships in Pietermaritzburg.
However, Nhlapo said he was not near his best form yet.
“I still have some time to put some things together, I’ve got sort of four weeks to peak until now and the end of May,” he said.
“That has been my goal the whole year just to be in good shape at the end of May.
“I am just going to take the next four weeks as it comes and once I’ve qualified, really focus on the next eight weeks before the Olympics.”
Nhlapo felt comfortable with the amount of work he had put in over the past four years.
“The Olympics is a four-year gig and you prepare for four years, and I’ve been working really hard since 2008, unfortunately,” said Nhlapo.
“I had two years of major setback injuries, but I managed to bounce back each time and get the job done and return to racing in good form.”
Like his recovery, Nhlapo will have to take baby steps towards realising his dream of clinching an Olympic medal, and the first will be to qualify in Birmingham.
“Worse case scenario I need to make the semi-final... or make the final, which is the best solution. I am training really hard and hope to get onto that podium on May 28.” – Sapa