Australian BMX star Saya Sakakibara was thrown off a stretcher during the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics after a horror crash left her motionless on the track.
Sakakibara was clipped from behind by American rider Alise Willoughby while leading the race, with outraged fans calling for the American’s disqualification over the collision.
In a cruel twist, her older brother Kai was left with brain damage and in a coma for two months after an eerily similar crash while driving last year.
Commentators were speechless after the ‘brutal’ crash during the live broadcast on Seven when the 21-year-old medal-hopeful received treatment on track.
Her brother Kai, who turned 25 on Thursday, should have joined her on the Australian BMX race team for the Tokyo Games.
But in February last year, he crashed badly while racing at a World Cup round in Bathurst.
Siblings of BMX stars: Saya Sakakibara (left) represents Australia in the BMX halfs at the Olympics today, with her brother Kai (right) cheering her on from the sidelines. He was in a coma for two months after a crash and ruined his own Olympic ambitions
Sakakibara suffered severe brain trauma and was in a coma for two months.
He has amazed doctors with his ongoing recovery – he can ride a bike again – but there is still a long way to go.
He is in Tokyo to participate in the Paralympic Torch Relay, traveling with their Japanese-born mother and grandmother, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they cannot attend the BMX venue.
Thursday was not a happy time watching TV for the Sakakibaras in their ‘Let’s Go Saya’ T-shirts.
“I was so scared because if she had made one mistake, like the first, she would have been out,” Kai told the Seven Network.
“But she didn’t. I feel amazing.’
When asked if he was proud of her, Kai replied, “Sure, but she has to go tomorrow, so I’ll be really proud of her.”
Saya said she spoke to Kai before racing.
“I really just congratulated him on his birthday and of course I’m here for both of us,” she said.
Kai has amazed doctors with his ongoing recovery – he can ride a bike again – but there is still a long way to go. He’s in Tokyo cheering for his little sister as she makes her dream come true
Saya and Reynolds were drawn in the same six-rider heat, with the top four after the three rounds advancing to the semi-finals and medal race to follow on Friday.
While Reynolds took third, second and fourth to cruise through, Saya had her race accident and faded after a quick start in race two.
That got her into big trouble, finishing last with two other riders.
Sakakibara again led from the start in race three and threw her bike to the line to beat Swiss rider Zoe Claessens by a bandwidth.
But it didn’t matter – a place in the top two was more than enough.
She finished fourth overall with 11 points, four more than the next rider.
There would be no comeback for Dean, who finished last in his heat after the crash of the first race.
Alise Willoughby, the American wife of Australian BMX star Sam, dominated her heat.
Sam, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a training crash in 2016, coaches his wife, Reynolds and Dean.
Dutch star Niek Kimmann showed no ill effects after bumping into an official in training earlier this week and also easily reached the semi-finals.
Kai is in Tokyo to participate in the Paralympic Torch Relay, traveling with their Japanese-born mother and grandmother