One of the defining images of Tokyo 2020 was 21-year-old Kye Whyte holding his team-mate Bethany Shriever in his arms on the BMX track. Minutes earlier, Whyte had become the first British rider to win a medal in BMX racing, charging through to claim silver in the men’s event. Shriever then followed him home, claiming a thrilling gold. Their embrace was tender, but spoke only of a decade-long shared history of overcoming adversity – injuries, lack of funding, near-misses – on the road to a very strange Olympics. There’s no rest for Whyte, the “Prince of Peckham” – he competes in the BMX world championships next weekend.
What was going on in your mind when you picked up Beth Shriever?
It was just that we had kind of made history and she was too tired to celebrate, so I had to pick her up and help her celebrate her win. Because she gave it her all out on the track and she didn’t have the legs to even walk. It’s been a rocky ride for both of us, but we both made it.
Tokyo 2020 was an unusual Olympics. Did that contribute to the emotion?
The only downside is that we didn’t get to see Japan, obviously. But it was still super-super-crazy going into the dining hall and you’d see like 10,000 athletes at any time of the day or the night. It was all different foods and they had the best ice-cream I’ve ever tasted. It was like a strawberry Magnum, but a Japanese brand. I was eating that non-stop!
How did you feel after winning silver?
I had about eight emotions when I finished. The first one was excitement, then shock. Then I calmed down and I got tired and was like, “Oh my God, I could have won.” Because I was winning that race and I made a mistake. So I got a bit angry. But I brought myself back to the reality that it was still good.
Everyone loved the races. Liam Gallagher tweeted: “BMX racing at the Olympics is blowing my mind.”
Yeah, but he didn’t mention me! That’s what we’ve been trying to do for years. As a team, we always talk about how we can get more fans involved. But it’s all based on money and BMX doesn’t really get that much money in. So this was super big for us, for it to be blown out of proportion like that.
BMX is a really dangerous sport: when you were 13, you were knocked out and couldn’t race for more than a year.
Yeah, I had a bleed on the brain and they put me in an induced coma for five days. Just waiting for me to wake up. When I woke up and I was able to go to the toilet by myself, I could leave. On my first try, I actually fell down. That’s all I remember. To be fair, I don’t know why I still do it, but it’s obviously worked out now.
You started riding at Peckham BMX club. The head coach there Michael Pusey (aka DJ CK Flash) is vocal about how sport can keep kids out of gangs. Was that a choice you faced?
Not for me. I started BMX at the age of three, so that’s the only thing I knew. Anything outside of BMX was just not normal to me, if that makes sense. But yeah, I grew up in Peckham and I have friends in gangs. But even if I wasn’t doing BMX, I wouldn’t be in a gang anyway because I’m pretty screwed on and my dad was quite strict when me and my brothers were younger.
So you were lucky to find something you loved doing?
I don’t even love it that much, because I hate training! I love racing, the adrenaline, but if I could not train and still race and keep up with everyone that would be a dream.
Tom Daley has knitting. What’s life for you outside BMX racing?
I don’t have a life outside of BMX racing! We’re training sometimes from 10am until 5pm and you come home and you’re just dead. So I’ll just play Xbox with friends. I’ve got a dog – he’s a little French bulldog. He’s a whiner, barker, he snores very loud. Farts non-stop. If I was on FaceTime, I could show you how annoying he is right now.
The world championships are coming up next weekend in the Netherlands. Do you look at that as a chance to avenge the Olympics?
I wouldn’t say avenge, but yeah, for me, it’s a point to prove. I know I could have won [the Olympics] – also the guy who won [Niek Kimmann], the world championships are at his home track. So if I was to win at his home track that would be even more mental.
Your former coach, CK, likes to tell young riders: “It’s not about the money, cars or how big your house is, it’s about how many lives you can save and change.” Would you agree with that?
I’m not sure, because I need a new car! And I need a house out of this because I’m not riding and training for nothing. But yes, obviously if this can help kids come off the streets and get into BMX, no matter where they’re from, then I’m happy that happens.
Adam Peaty has called for a return of the TV show Superstars, which pitted athletes from different sports against each other. Would you be up for that?
One hundred per cent. I feel like I’m pretty fast at running. I can swim, but I don’t know if I’m fast or not. I can’t do press-ups, because my wrist doesn’t even bend more than halfway, but I’d say I’m pretty strong. So I feel like that needs to be a show.