Feature | BMX

It's all in the name: BMX rider Nakamura Rim going for glory at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

With BMX freestyle set to debut at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, an aptly-named 18-year-old Japanese prodigy is eyeing more than just a gold medal on home turf.

By Shintaro Kano ·

If anyone was born to take part in the BMX freestyle Olympic Games debut, it’s Nakamura Rim.

His father, Tatsuji, was a former hard-core rider who opened up a BMX shop in 1999 in the most un-BMX of places – the ancient Japanese capital, Kyoto.

He had a son three years later, and named him after a bicycle part – rim – taking a character from the Chinese spelling of “Olympic” and combining it with the word “dream” (pronounced ri-mu).

On 9 June, 2020, that Olympic dream became a reality as Nakamura was officially named on Japan’s BMX roster for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“I’m not going to lie. I’m very happy right now”, Nakamura said during an online press conference to announce the four-person team selected by the Japan Cycling Federation.

“Since this sport joined the Olympics, it’s been my biggest goal to make the team. Now that I’ve made it, the aim is to become No. 1 in the sport.” - Nakamura Rim

Nakamura and Oike Minato will compete in the freestyle, while compatriots Nagasako Yoshitaku and Hatakeyama Sae are in the racing event.

Nakamura Rim, the Boy Wonder

Nakamura will be 19 when he takes the stage at Tokyo’s Ariake Urbant Sports Park for the Games in 2021, but that should hardly faze Boy Wonder as he has been defying age since birth.

He was on his first set of wheels by three, and entered his first competition at five, quickly gaining recognition as a prodigy. He turned professional while still a junior in high school.

By 2016, Nakamura was turning heads overseas. In December 2017, he emerged as the inaugural winner of the national BMX freestyle park championships.

But it was the 2019 season where the 1.70-metre rider really started to make strides.

In August, he finished runner-up at the X Games as the youngest-ever to reach the podium in the freestyle park. Three months later in Chengdu, China, Nakamura made more history as the first Japanese male to win a World Cup event – and going on to win the 2019 overall title.

“There’s no single reason for the improvement,” Nakamura explained. “I’ve been competing abroad for three years now and I think it finally materialised for me last year. All the work I put in started to gradually surface”.

Regrouping after COVID-19

With a breakout campaign underneath him, Nakamura was on course to ride into the Games on an upward trajectory – then the COVID-19 coronavirus happened.

Tokyo 2020 was pushed back to 2021, the first Games to be postponed in history. Athletes around the world training to peak for the summer of 2020 were forced to head back to the drawing board.

Nakamura was no exception.

Nakamura Rim is one of Japan's best medal bets for Tokyo 2020.

“I want to make 2021 a year like no other”

“Given the way things are at the moment, it has been hard to stay motivated, especially without any competitions. But since I’ve been told I made the team, I feel like I’m training better than ever before." Nakamura shared.

“Until the Olympics next year, there’s the World Cup and a bunch of other events on the calendar. I want to do well in those to help build up an atmosphere in Japan.

“It would have been good if the Games took place as scheduled but I’m trying to turn everything into a positive right now. This gives me an extra year to train. I’m younger compared to everyone else and I can use the time to practice more, add experience.

“I want to make 2021 a year like no other”.

The sky is the limit for the 18-year-old teenager.

For the love of the game

While he would love nothing more than an Olympic gold medal in 2021, Nakamura will also be competing for something potentially bigger – proliferating BMX in Japan, particularly in his hometown of Kyoto.

“Needless to say I want the best result possible but at the same time, I want to be able to ride freely for that one minute,” he continued. “I want to become even better over the next year. I want people to think I benefited from the postponement.

“Not too many people know about BMX in Japan yet. If we perform well enough at the Games, then hopefully more people will get into the sport.

“I was born in Kyoto and still live in Kyoto. But I’ve always wanted to see more people take up BMX in my hometown. I want to help boost the popularity of BMX from my hometown.

“I think the BMX scene in Japan is getting better and we’re all improving day-by-day. But there are still a lot of people who haven’t heard of BMX. Not everyone has to take it up but I would love to see everyone recognise it”.