Victoria Jacobsen
The Bulletin

When Olivia Armstrong and her parents landed in Belgium nearly a week ahead of her first race at the BMX world championships, they discovered a major problem at baggage claim: Both of her racing bikes were missing.

“We didn’t have my bikes for a few days, and that was kind of scary,” said the 15-year-old rider from Bend. “We were pretty scared because there have been people who lose them and sometimes they don’t get them in time (for their race).”

Luckily, the Armstrongs’ early arrival in for the championships, which were held in Heusden-Zolder from July 21 to 25, gave the airline plenty of time to locate her bikes, but Olivia said she was on pins and needles until she got them back.

“We didn’t have our phones, because they didn’t work over there, and we sent my dad to the train station to go get my bikes at the airport, and he was gone for five hours, and we didn’t know where he was,” Armstrong recounted. “We were worried he got mugged or lost or something happened.

“He got both of the bikes and got back, but it was really nerve-wracking, (worrying) I came all this way and wouldn’t have my bike.”

Despite an inauspicious start to her world championship trip, Armstrong was nearly unstoppable after being reunited with her 20-inch and 24-inch bikes, winning the 16-and-under women’s cruiser category and finishing third in the 20-inch girls U15 division.

It was an exciting if somewhat unexpected result for Armstrong, who gained national attention in BMX circles after winning both of her events at the USA BMX Grand National in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last Thanksgiving.

“It’s a totally different atmosphere,” Armstrong said of the international competition in Belgium, which she compared to the Olympics. “They’re checking your bikes 24/7, asking if you need food, water, whatever.

“It was way different racing because I didn’t know the people I was competing against. In the U.S., I know who is going to be tough in that gate or whatever, but I had no idea who these people were. I think it took a little pressure off of me, because I didn’t have that in my mind, that I knew this person could beat me.”

Now that she has a world championship to her name, Armstrong said she would like to try to qualify for the Olympics. Although she will be 16 next year — technically old enough to qualify for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro — Armstrong said she is more focused on the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo.

In the meantime, Armstrong is balancing her BMX training with academic demands (she will start her sophomore year at Bend High next month) and her high school volleyball team. Armstrong said she travels to compete in national BMX events about once a month and rides at the Bend and Redmond tracks about five days a week.

“I’m pretty busy most of the time,” she said. “I have a lot of support from my parents. I’m gone a lot, because of racing nationals through the year, and the teachers support it and they tell classes how I’ve done, and it’s really nice.”

Olivia followed her older brother, Ryan, now 22, into BMX, but their mother, Jill, said she never imagined she would be accompanying either of her children to the world championships.

“It’s just been one step after another,” Jill Armstrong explained. “It’s a pretty fun ride. The dilemma is with working and the financial stress, but my son’s grown, so now our family life is taking her to races. And she’s done so well at it that we have to keep doing it.”

Olivia recently joined 510 Bay Area BMXers, a national team that helped finance her trip to Belgium for the world championships. While her rising profile has perks — she has been the subject of numerous articles, photographed for the cover of Pull, a national BMX magazine, and featured on the event shirt sold at a recent competition in Redmond — Armstrong admits that all the attention can be daunting.

“It’s more nerve-wracking when it’s live,” Armstrong said. “In Tulsa I did a live interview before my race, and I didn’t know until two hours before that I was doing it. And then when I won I had to go up and do this speech, and I was super nervous for that.

“It’s totally new. These past couple of years have been more and more on me, and it’s fun but it’s nerve-wracking.”

Even after winning enough trophies to fill a room (her brother’s bedroom became a trophy room after he moved out), Armstrong said her favorite part of BMX is riding and dominating out on the track.

“It’s not all about winning, but that’s a really fun part of it, and just doing new things on your bike,” she said. “The confidence that you can just go out and ride your bike and have fun, it’s a passion of mine.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0305, .