X Games star Nyquist to coach US team at Tokyo Olympics
The first thing Ryan Nyquist wants to make perfectly clear is that he's not retiring.
He could, of course. Nyquist is among the most accomplished BMX Freestyle riders in the sport's short history, a pioneer who turned professional in 1996 and proceeded to win three world championships, 16 medals at the X Games and just about every major competition out there.
But no, Nyquist intends to continue competing in the sport he loves for years to come.
He's just added a high-profile side gig.
The 40-year-old Nyquist was hired Thursday to coach the U.S. team in the lead-up to freestyle's debut at the Tokyo Olympics next summer. Nyquist will play a crucial role in the program, organizing and accompanying riders to camps and while helping them acquire sponsorships and other support.
"I still have many goals for riding," Nyquist said, "and I'm not ready to hang up my helmet just yet. But when the opportunity to be head coach presented itself, I couldn't help but think that my history and success with competing could help fast-track the current and next generation of athletes to achieve their goals and dreams."
It makes sense that Nyquist would be part of the foundation of the U.S. team.
After all, he was very near to the foundation of the sport.
The sport's roots can be traced to the 1970s in Southern California, when riders began doing tricks off skateboard ramps and in empty swimming pools. But the sport didn't take off until the 1980s, when new BMX bikes designed specifically for the extreme nature of the riding began to come out.
There are several version of BMX Freestyle, but the Olympic discipline is essentially the street variation, where riders compete over a course filled with ramps, obstacles and transitions. Each rider will get a pair of 1-minute runs scored by judges, with both counting toward a final score.
The discipline's cousin, BMX racing, has been part of the Olympic program since the 2008 Beijing Games. It has usually produced large crowds of young fans eager to see riders careen around a dirt-and-asphalt court filled with jumps in races that often take no more than 40 seconds.
Both of the BMX disciplines were added to the Olympics to capture a younger demographic.
The first major competitions for the U.S. riders under Nyquist's guidance will be the USA Cycling Freestyle national Championships and the Pan-American Championships, which will be held back-to-back in October in Cary, North Carolina. The world championships are a month later in Chengdu, China.
"Ryan is in a unique position to continue riding at a high level while coaching," said Scott Schnitzspahn, the vice president of elite athletics for USA Cycling. "We're excited to have him on staff serving as a coach and mentor, and for him to be able to pass along over two decades of knowledge and experience to our Elite BMX Freestyle athletes."
Nyquist's hiring also means that Jamie Staff, who had been temporarily overseeing the freestyle U.S. program, can turn his attention back to the BMX racing team ahead of the Tokyo Games.
"I want to teach riders how to be fierce competitors and how to push the limits of what's possible in our sport," Nyquist said, "all while being role models and true professionals. That is something I'm very passionate about, and I feel that I am uniquely qualified to pass those lessons and skills along."