Having secured his first World Cup title in 2019, British BMX racer Kye Whyte is aiming for the top of the podium at next year’s Olympic Games. He spoke to Tokyo 2020 about growing up in a BMX-mad family, his journey to the top of the game and what it would mean to win the greatest prize of all - an Olympic gold medal.
A tale of two brothers
When the Tokyo 2020 Games were postponed until 2021, some athletes saw it as an opportunity: one more year to get fitter, faster, stronger.
For others, it was a crushing blow.
Perhaps no two athletes personify this more than the Whyte brothers - Kye and Tre - Team GB’s BMX racing siblings who both had ambitions to go to the Olympics.
For Kye, the younger of the two brothers, the postponement represented an opportunity to prepare himself to launch an assault on the gold medal at next year’s Games.
For 27-year-old Tre, the delay marked the end of the road. The lack of racing opportunities during the pandemic left him unable to fight for the ranking points required to earn a place on the Olympic team.
“My brother didn’t have any Olympic points because he was injured in 2018 and halfway through 2019, so he didn’t really race,” explained Kye Whyte in an exclusive interview with Tokyo 2020. “With no competitions he didn’t have a chance to prove himself, so he just said ‘yeah, I’m done’ and just packed it in then.”
It leaves Kye to fly the family flag alone when the action begins next July in Japan. But after a fantastic 2019 season, he's determined to fly it high on the greatest sporting stage of all.
Keeping it in the family
It has been a remarkable rise to the top for Kye Whyte, for whom BMX racing has always been a family affair.
He got his first taste of racing at the Peckham BMX Club, where his dad was a coach, his mum was the secretary and his older brothers were “the top riders in England.”
Even then, it seemed like it was destiny that Whyte would follow in the family footsteps and forge a career as a BMX racer.
“Everything revolved around BMX and I don’t think I could have done anything else, really,” he explains.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t opportunities for Whyte to take a different path. Growing up in Peckham, an area of South London that, at the time, had a reputation for violence and crime, it would have been easy for him to get led astray. In many ways, Whyte's talent for the BMX helped him stay out of trouble.
“In Peckham, I’m known for doing BMX and it’s just like, ‘he’s the wheely kid or the BMX kid, he’s not part of that. Let’s just leave him out.’ Living in the area that we do live in it’s kept us on the straight and narrow.”
Also making sure Whyte stayed on the right path were his parents, who remain huge supporters of their sons’ athletic efforts. They sacrificed what they had to make sure their children could make every race meet and every competition, something that Whyte realises when he looks back on his early days as a racer.
“I had a sponsor at the time and I had a contract. And I never knew this at the time but in the contract it said I have to be at every race, no matter what. So one time they gave the sponsor the last bit of money they had and got my nan to drop me off at his house. And I stayed at his house for the weekend when we did the competition,” Whyte recalled.
“And I was excited at the time, but as I grew older they told me that was the reason why.”
The making of a champion
The Peckham BMX Club has become quite a legendary institution in the world of British BMX racing. Kye Whyte is the eighth member of the club to have won a place on the Great Britain Cycling Team. It led to a relocation to Manchester and the chance to train at the British Cycling HQ.
At first, though, Whyte’s move to the north of England was not a success.
“At the start it wasn't good. It was pretty hard for me, I’m not going to lie,” he explained. “I got told I had a bad attitude, I was late for everything... I wanted to go home all the time.”
But pretty soon, Whyte began to get stronger on the bike and realised that he had the potential to become one of the best in the sport. It marked a turning point in his life as an elite athlete.
“I got a bit faster and it was working, so I thought ‘basically all I have to do is this.’ So I started to figure it out, with the coaching and a lot of gym work. And I’m at a point now where what I needed, I’ve got, and what I already had is better. And all I really need to do is put it together and I should come out on top.”
In 2018, the new-found sense of purpose and determination really began to pay dividends for Whyte. In the European Championships he placed second, before 2019 saw him go one step further. In front of a home crowd in Manchester, the then 19-year-old Whyte showed blistering pace and nerves of steel to win gold in the World Cup.
It is a victory that he’s proud of - for more than one reason.
“I think only four people have ever done it as a teenager and I think I’m the first black person to do it as well… I feel like it was a small step, within myself, and community-wise for Peckham.”
Even if it’s a bronze or a silver it would do,
but I’m not going there to get second or third.
Heading into an Olympic year, Kye Whyte is focussed on one thing: bringing home a first Olympic BMX racing medal for Great Britain.
“A GB BMXer has never got an Olympic medal, even though we’ve had the fastest riders… even if it’s a bronze or a silver it would do, but I’m not going there to get second or third,” Whyte explains.
And when he competes in Japan next year, he’ll have one other thing in his favour as he seeks to make history at the Tokyo 2020 Games: the course. Following 2019’s test event, which Whyte was unable to attend due to injury, his coach told him that the Olympic course perfectly suited his style.
“He sent me a message and he said ‘that track is made for you.’ I can catch anyone on the track and the track is really long, and you really have to push to gain your speed. But for me, I gain speed regardless, so all I have to do is get a good start and if I need to, I can catch people, and if I’m winning I should be sweet.”
If Whyte does win Olympic gold, it will be a victory for himself, for British cycling and for his community. But mainly it will be a victory for his family - including those whose Olympics dreams are now being lived out by their younger sibling.
Whyte’s message to them is simple: “I want to do it for myself and both my brothers.”
The Olympic BMX racing competition begins on Thursday 29 July 2021 with the final taking place on Friday 30 July.