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Broken bones and broken dreams: BMX star's Olympic bid

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 3:16 PM EST, Fri February 10, 2012
British BMX racer Shanaze Reade is heading into London 2012 as one of the favorites to claim gold. The 23-year-old is a three-time world champion in the sport, which is entering only its second Olympic Games. British BMX racer Shanaze Reade is heading into London 2012 as one of the favorites to claim gold. The 23-year-old is a three-time world champion in the sport, which is entering only its second Olympic Games.
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  • British BMX rider Shanaze Reade is a gold medal favorite for London 2012
  • Reade crashed out of the inaugural BMX final in Beijing four years ago
  • The IOC announced BMX as an Olympic sport in 2003 and it made its debut in 2008
  • The 23-year-old Reade considered quitting BMX after her China nightmare

(CNN) -- "I've broken my shoulder, broken my knees, broken my feet, broken my hands, I've broken ribs, I've broken the coccyx in my back."

Off-road bicycle racing is a rough and tumble world, and three-time BMX world champion Shanaze Reade has suffered enough injuries to end any sporting career.

Fortunately for the British Olympian, she is made of stern stuff, mentally and physically.

"When I was leaving primary school I wanted to be a BMX racer," the 23-year-old told CNN. "My teachers and my family would say, 'How are you going to make a career out of BMX racing? It's not even an Olympic sport!' "

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That changed in 2003, when the International Olympic Committee announced that BMX would be a full medal event at the 2008 Beijing Games.

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BMX, inspired by motocross, started life in the late 1960s as kids playing on bikes in California. It has since evolved into a sport which pits highly-trained athletes against each other over one white-knuckle lap of a dirt course.

"It's grown a massive amount," said Reade, who has also won track cycling world titles alongside 2008 Olympic gold medalist Victoria Pendleton.

"Before the Olympic Games in 2008 it was big, but then after ... people understood our sport a lot more. Kids started coming along to the tracks, adults started coming along. People who raced back in the '80s, they started coming back into the sport."

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Having qualified for the four-rider women's final at Laoshan in 2008 after a series of grueling qualifying heats, Reade -- already a double world champion and the favorite to clinch the sport's inaugural gold medal -- had the chance to justify the career choice she had so stubbornly made as a child.

But it was not to be.

"Everything seemed to come to a complete standstill," said Reade, who crashed out of the deciding race after clipping France's eventual champion Anne-Caroline Chausson.

It was a sad conclusion to an uneasy Olympic campaign in which she also crashed during the individual time trials and the first semifinal heat.

But the final, unlike the semis, offered Reade no chance of redemption once her face had hit the dirt. She was left to contemplate giving up on her Olympic dream after just one attempt.

You can be successful, but without happiness it means nothing
Shanaze Reade

"How hurt I felt from that race, I was like, 'Do I even want to do sport anymore? Do I want to be in sport if this is the way it makes me feel?' "

But Reade's mental strength came to the fore and, over time, she regained her composure and confidence ahead of a home Games in London later this year.

"Time is a great healer. I got up, brushed myself down and I thought, 'This is what I am good at and this is what I trained for.' "

She will again enter the competition as a strong gold medal contender after clinching her third world title in Adelaide in 2010.

The prospect of being backed by thousands of partisan fans at the Olympic Park's BMX track, combined with her victory at last August's Olympic test event, has given Reade plenty of cause for optimism.

"I've never performed in front of 6,000 people before and I've never competed in front of 6,000 British people who are all behind you," she said.

"I think the atmosphere is going to be electric there and really motivating at the same time."

If Reade once again comes up short in her pursuit of gold, then at least she has learned not to let sporting shortcomings drag her down.

"My motto is life and in sport is 'happiness is the key to success.' You can be successful, but without happiness it means nothing. That's definitely what I go by."

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