Buchanan is fighting back to be an Olympian again

Caroline Buchanan of Australia competes in the Cycling - BMX Women's Seeding Run at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Caroline Buchanan of Australia competes in the Cycling - BMX Women's Seeding Run at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

On 30 December 2017, Australian BMX racer Caroline Buchanan's life did a 180 turn.

The two-time Olympian was involved in a serious accident when an off-road buggy rolled on a friend's private property in outback New South Wales - about 114km from the nation's capital Canberra.

With a broken nose, broken sternum, two collapsed lungs, dangerous bleeding around her heart and no phone reception, Buchanan was strapped into the front seat of a car with her fiancé as he started the drive towards Cooma Hospital.

It would be another four hour drive in an ambulance to get to Canberra. Over a three day period, she had 2.5L of blood and fluid drained from her lungs and spent four days in the ICU.

From there, Buchanan has had multiple surgeries to repair her sternum - one of the hardest bones to set - which is now held together with 28 screws and wire.

"My hardest challenge yet has been to come back for this Olympic Games and be back ready against the best in the world," she said during the On Your Day podcast last week.

It was only 14 months ago that the multiple World Champion was down to size 6 in clothing and shaking whilst holding onto 1kg dumbbells as she attempted to do backflys at the Australian Institute of Sport gym.

"Once my body finally healed, and I had the clearance to ride and train again, I couldn't do one push up on my knees - that was my strength level," she explained.

Since then, she has gained muscle and strength back but the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games was a blessing in disguise for Buchanan as she looks towards qualifying for a third Olympics.

"I know there are a lot of athletes out there like 'agh we were ready, we were peaking' and I was 'oh my gosh I'm so happy'," she laughed, "For me it's been a breath of fresh air to take a step back."

Taekwondo or BMX?

Growing up Buchanan did everything; gymnastics, tennis, taekwondo, golf...you name it.

"Anything I could get off school with and basically just do sport instead, [that] was the kind of kid I was."

However, she had the ultimate opportunity at just the age of eight: to go to Paris to qualify for the BMX World Championships or get her black belt in taekwondo.

"And I decided [either to be] black belt in taekwondo or do I take my little Cabbage Patch doll to Paris?"

"Went to my first World Championship at eight-years-old."

It was in that moment that Buchanan became hungry to be on the BMX racing world stage.

"There were all these kids all the way through to the elite level, all these countries, the flags and it was the opening ceremonies. BMX wasn't an Olympic sport at that stage but I was like 'okay, this is what I'm meant to do'."

Unlucky in London and Rio

Looking at Buchanan's Olympic experience, you could say luck wasn't on her side. It's a sport where anything can happen on race day.

With BMX racing making it's Olympic debut at Beijing 2008, the then 18-year-old despite being one of the best in Australia, was not eligible to compete due to her age.

So after waiting for four years, when London 2012 came around, she was ready to go. Buchanan came into the Olympics as one of the top riders with multiple World Cup titles under her belt. In May 2012, just two months out from the Games, she was ranked no.1 in the world.

"I came in with a really defensive mindset, I came in [thinking] it was my race to lose. For me, I put this massive target on my back and was like 'I've been winning everything'. And that was my biggest letdown," she said.

"I'd come in as though the race had already been completed and won."

The Australian was the fastest rider in the seeding and second fastest behind eventual two-time Olympic champion Mariana Pajón in the semi-finals. However, in the final, the moment got to her and she only finished fifth.

The year following London was a career highlight with Buchanan winning both the BMX World Championships and UCI Four Cross World Championships.

So with lesson learnt from her first Olympics experience, Buchanan came into Rio 2016 a different person. And while she came into her second Games in a similar shape, the rider was a lot more "cool, calm and collected".

However, in the semi-final, she jack-knifed and crashed.

"So semi-final and I'm out at the Olympic Games, didn't even get to the final. Couldn't hide my emotions, I was devastated."

Caroline Buchanan of Australia reacts after crashing out during the Women's Semi-finals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Caroline Buchanan of Australia reacts after crashing out during the Women's Semi-finals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

On my day in Tokyo

The 29-year-old loves seeing a sea of green and gold - being entrenched in the moment so on her day at Tokyo 2020 next summer, she wants to have that feeling.

"I've had my blinkers on for the last couple of Olympics, wasn't aware of the crowd and I think in doing that it also shut down what the Olympics is about...and that energy you can build from the crowd," Buchanan said.

Recently before falling asleep one night, the Aussie athlete had a dream about a lap at the Olympic course - she had watched footage of it from a test event last year since she had been injured at the time.

"I actually wasn't winning but I came back on the last straight to win so it felt quite realistic so...whether this is a sign or not...who knows where I'll be."

"I think for me, its more about that mindset, being in the moment and taking that opportunity."