SArriving at the gate at the start of the BMX track in Burgess Park, south-east London, under threatening gray skies, Caleb Tewolde watches the course ahead from behind his matte black full-face helmet. He has the pure, uninterrupted focus that only a four-year-old can muster.
And he needs it, because he has a lot to do: his older brother Lucas, seven, is already No.1 nationally and that morning their club mate Kye Whyte, 21, took down the silver at the Tokyo Olympics. .
Peckham BMX Club is an anomaly. British Olympians tend to be predominantly commuters, with just 35% of the current squad from the UK’s biggest cities. BMX, a sport that requires expensive equipment and space, is more associated with quiet, leafy middle-class neighborhoods than underprivileged urban areas like Peckham.
And yet, Peckham BMX has already contributed seven members of the British Olympic team: at one point four out of seven in the BMX team came from the club.
“Essentially [the club is] like a mini Olympic program ”, explains its founder, CK Flash. Much like British Cycling, which develops riders for the road and the velodrome, Peckham BMX has its own nutritionist, its own weightlifting trainer, alongside a dozen riding coaches. “We’re talking about diet, we’re talking about water, we’re talking about how much sleep you get, how you should stretch,” says Flash.
It took almost two decades to get there. Flash began training riders in 2003, ending a successful career as a DJ. He started in Brixton, where he first met Tre Whyte, Kye’s older brother, who became British national champion and won bronze at the world championships in 2014. After building a stable of riders there – down, Flash moved to Peckham.
“Eventually the guys from Brixton came to Peckham and then, three years after their training, they won all the titles in England, which were regional champions, youth games champions, national champions, champions of the game. ‘Europe, and we got a world champion for it as well in 2012.
On a rainy Friday afternoon, Caleb is the youngest of a dozen club members running around the course, showing off their skills to a crowd of journalists who have come to experience the club’s magic formula. The zigzag course has three steep berms, with straight lines in between, the second of which is divided into a beginners course and a pro straight with huge jumps for experienced riders. Older members operate the rear wheels of their small-frame BMX bikes as they soar through the air; Caleb rolls gently over each bump, taking advantage of the momentum.
Raising a BMX racer in itself is hard work, says Keighley Anderson, 32, Caleb’s mother. She spends her weekends taking her boys shopping across the country – Caleb will compete in her first British Championships next month in Leicester. It can get expensive too: Her two boys are outfitted in armor, helmet, padded gloves – and that’s before it comes to the cost of the bike.
Despite this, Peckham BMX is open to everyone, whether or not the kids can afford the equipment. A clubhouse built from old shipping containers has dozens of bikes and helmets on loan for cyclists who want to try their hand at the sport. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 90 to 110 runners show up for training, with some locations funded by the Southwark Council.
What also sets Peckham apart from rival clubs is the quality of its track, one of the longest dedicated BMX tracks in the UK. Awarded £ 1.1million in council funding – part of the legacy fund from the 2012 Olympics – and the national lottery, Flash went to Clark & Kent, a dedicated track building contractor BMX Club of Shropshire.
“I just told them, there’s the budget, just build me the best track you want and make it tough, because if you complicate it, you get results,” Flash explains.
What sets Kye White apart? Brutal determination, Flash said. “If we have to do 10 or 50 laps, he’s going to make sure he wins every 50 laps, he’s one of them… He won’t let you beat him, even if it kills him, he gonna beat you 50 times, right? “
Mikey Martin, a slim 48-year-old man who is one of the oldest members of the club, says: “Kye has been a beast since he was a kid. When he walks through the portal, he doesn’t think of losing. When he was seven he was already beating me.
Caleb has a long way to go. After a few hours on the track, he decided to focus on the home stretch, repeating it over and over again. Then he turns to his mom. “Enough of the ride,” he said.