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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
The year of the Willoughby

By Pat Nugent
ESPN.com

2012 USA BMX #1 elite pro Sam Willoughby, early in the 2012 season.

Since he started out as an Elite Pro, Australian Sam Willoughby has been a name synonymous with "winning." And when 2012 arrived, the racing among the elite pros was tighter than ever. With focus on the 2012 Olympics, the USA BMX circuit fell to the wayside until late August, when it was time to switch gears. And by then, Sam Willoughby had earned the UCI World title as well as an Olympic silver medal. Meanwhile, Marc Willers had no title or medal as he began his run to hold onto the USA BMX title. At the last race of the year, Willers upped his game, taking home two of the possible three wins for the weekend, and then at the Grands pre-race, he upped it even more with another win on the very track they would race on for the title the following day.

When the gates went down for the main events at the Grands, Willers had no such luck. Willoughby dominated, and by the third and final round, he was sitting pretty comfortably. In that final round, Willoughby finished second behind American Connor Fields, while Willers was in fourth and devastated. Following that long weekend in Tulsa, I caught up with Sam Willoughby to get a glimpse of everything he has been through this season, and how he's feeling overall.

ESPN.com: With a UCI World Title, a 2012 Olympic silver medal, the 2012 NORA Cup, UCI Supercross overall title and now the USA BMX title, you have had a pretty spectacular season, what would you say have been your biggest highlights? And who has been the toughest competitor?
Willoughby: It's been an absolutely amazing 2012! I have has so much fun along the way. I have to say my biggest highlight came from winning the USA BMX pro title. My toughest competition along the way was probably myself, as long as I was having fun and managing my fatigue. But that is easier said than done at this level. Through it all though, Marc Willers is a great competitor and I admire his efforts, so I would say Marc.

For you, does any one title hold more merit over the others?
The USA BMX pro title. That title means so much to me. I think because of the suspense it takes to win it. You have to be good from February through November, and then be even better on Thanksgiving weekend. It's the hardest title in BMX to win.

After months of peaking, do you have any special plans for the off-season? How have you fended off flattness?
I have been running hard for nearly four years since moving to the U.S. I'm looking forward to switching off and not touching the bike for a month or so. That will be key for the 2013 year. I think I was able to stay at the top of my game all year just through training smart and having balance in my life. I took control of my training last December and I've seen huge gains in training. Then I brought Sean Dwight on to help me after the Olympics and he ironed out a lot of things and put me in the right position to finish of the year.

Going forward for 2013, what are your plans?
I will do the full USA BMX race schedule. I'll do the world championships, and a few Supercross races. Not all of them though.

Do you think Supercross races will matter as much or be as much of a draw as they have been in recent history?
I think the SX series as a whole are going to have to lift their game a bit with the way the pay the rider, build the tracks and run the events. In saying that though, we all need to keep riding SX to stay up with it for 2016. With USA BMX making a better schedule and more prize money, why would you risk yourself going to the SX races? It's nowhere near as lucrative for sponsors.

Anyone you'd like to send some thanks to?
Absolutely, my family, mum, dad and my brother, my girlfriend Alise, my good friend Andy Weaver, Sean Dwight, Jason Carnes, Daniel Orellana, Danny Kolsky, Redline Bicycles, Answer, Coca-Cola, Tioga, Oakley, TLD, Pryme, Kool Stop, AIS, BMX Australia.