Arielle Martin Races Toward Beijing

<strong>Arielle Martin at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.</strong><br>AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
Arielle Martin is the new face of BMX and she is racing towards the Beijing Olympics as fast as she can. But before she can try to beat the world, she needs to beat every other American woman trying to make the first Olympic BMX team. The U.S. has only two women's slots for the sport's debut.

Here is what Martin has to deal with as she concentrates on the 2008 Games: Her roommate, her husband and the war in Afghanistan.

Her roommate in the small room at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Cakifornia is Jill Kintner, pro mountain biker, BMX champion and the other U.S. woman in contention for a place on the team. So while Martin is thinking about winning as she falls asleep at night, her competition is lying on her own bed six feet away, also thinking about winning. Yet Martin says, "We push each other," and only has nice things to say about Kintner.

Meanwhile, Martin's husband, Mike Verhaaren, is an Army soldier serving in Afghanistan. To know who 22-year-old Arielle Martin is, think about the mental strength it takes to focus on her goal despite these huge distractions.

"As any wife does, I worry about him, but at the same time, I'm confident that he's OK. We're hoping that they will let him off to watch me compete if I make the Olympics," she says. If so, Martin will be the "Face of the Games," as hubby sits in the stands in his military uniform, watching his wife take on the world in her Olympic uniform.

It could happen and probably will. Martin was the top American woman at the recent BMX Supercross World Cup in Adelaide, Australia. The race was won by New Zealand's Sarah Walker. Kintner was fifth. Coming up in May, the World Championships in Taiyuan, China will count towards Olympic team selection.

But wherever she is in the world, Martin and Verhaaren are virtually together via cell phone and internet. He is totally supportive of her career, which has already resulted in a blown out knee and broken back. "It takes a lot for a spouse to support this, and I'm grateful to have that," she says.

Back at her new home in Chula Vista, Martin spends her days training on a duplicate of the Olympic BMX course, which the OTC has copied to perfection.

"It's just awesome; no other country has a complete replica course. The start is a three and a half story high ramp. By the time I hit the bottom of the start ramp, I'm already going 38 miles an hour," she says.

In the Olympic BMX Supercross, there will be eight riders starting side by side, sprinting towards the first berm, trying not to get boxed in by other riders who are faster or have better technique. BMX 'Cross takes both guts and strategy.

Martin is aided by her degree in exercise science. "It has given me an edge, because I totally understand the training and what it does for my body, and I know how important recovery is. It's helped me quite a bit," she says. Her original motivation for that major was because she wanted to be a coach; but it created something of a problem when she went looking for her own coach.

She explains, "I went through a series of coaches before I found a coach in France, Pierre-Henri Sauze. It was difficult for me to find a coach who knew more than I did."

Martin is not just a racer. 'Cross is racing, but BMX is racing plus tricks, and Martin--who grew up watching her father race BMX--has been riding a BMX bike since the age of two. She turned pro at the age of 15. Last October, Martin became the third woman in the world to land a backflip on a BMX bike.

She has suddenly become a hot athlete. NBC sent a crew to Afghanistan to interview her husband. The New York Times sent a reporter to California to interview her. As in any Olympic year, the press is turning from this month's blond to this summer's athlete. And this summer, that athlete is Arielle Martin.

Martin blogs regularly about her races and adventures at It's a uniquely truthful insight into an elite athlete's life. online magazine with cutting edge training articles, and where every sport is an adventure.

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