Natalya Diehm speaks to Siren Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos about her BMX journey and being one of the first athletes to compete in the sport at an Olympics.
Earlier this week, Natalya Diehm and five other riders made history when they were named to compete for the Australian Olympic Team in Tokyo in BMX and Mountain Bike.
Diehm will make history as Australia’s first Olympic BMX Freestyler when the discipline makes its debut at an Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The opportunity to compete at an Olympic Games is another feather on what is already a distinguished career for Diehm. In 2019, Diehm won the 2019 Vans BMX Pro Cup with events in the United States of America, Australia, Germany and Mexico.
In that same year, while on her Australian Team debut at the 2019 Urban World Championships in China, she finished sixth.
In November 2019, she also won the inaugural Oceania Championships before adding a maiden National title to her resume.
But competing at an Olympic Games is certainly not something Diehm thought was possible when she showed up to her local skate park at age eight.
“When I was eight years old wanting to go to the skate park, I was so young; mum and dad had to be there to watch me,” said Diehm.
“At that age you just want to ride your bike forever and hope that one day, you might be able to get paid for it.
“Back when I started, BMX Freestyle wasn’t even in the Olympics, it wasn’t even a consideration at that stage, so to be one of the first riders to go is amazing.”
BMX Freestyle is quite an incredible sport. It’s essentially motocross stunt riding on BMX bikes and is a combination of five different disciplines: street, park, vert, trails and flatland.
It’s considered an extreme sport and it’s almost refreshing to hear that Diehm still sees it that way.
“I definitely still get afraid and trying new tricks still gets my heart rate up,” said Diehm.
“If I didn’t start when I was young, I probably wouldn’t be in the sport now.
“When I was younger it was all about trying and learning new tricks, I thought I was invincible, I didn’t know what injury was.”
Throughout her career, Diehm has had her fair share of injuries.
She has had four knee reconstructions, dislocated shoulders and multiple sprained ankles.
Her first broken bone was when she was eleven years old.
“I was 11 years old, it was Christmas Eve and my parents decided to give us some of our presents earlier,” said Diehm.
“I got new purple handlebars and even though it was a rainy day, I had to go straight to the skatepark to try them out.”
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t suited to freestyle BMX. It was wet and Diehm slipped and broke her elbow.
Because she had gone to the skatepark on her own, she had to get herself home and then because it was so close to Christmas, it took some time to get the elbow checked out. Diehm ended up having surgery.
Diehm ended up breaking her elbow again. At the same time, she was also nursing a broken hand, so she had two arm casts on at the same time. She jokes that that was a fun time for her family.
Since Diehm has been involved in the sport, plenty has changed.
Initially when the sport was not considered professional, Diehm and her friends just rode.
“People used to make fun of you if you went to the gym,” Said Diehm.
“Riding your bike was considered to be your exercise to people didn’t think there was a need to go to the gym.”
But as the sport has continued to professionalise and as athletes are being given the opportunity to travel overseas with the sport, the approach to gym has changed.
“I now go to the gym four days a week, ride three hours a day five days a week and eat right,” said Diehm.
“I didn’t used to look after my body, so eating right and seeing a nutritionist has made a big impact.
“I wonder whether that’s why I had so many injuries in the past. Now that I’m going to the gym, focusing on my movement on and off the bike and thinking about injury prevention, I feel stronger than I have ever been.”
For many people, seeing BMX Freestyle at the Olympic Games will be their first taste of the sport. In Diehm’s view, they are in for a treat.
“Most of the public have no idea what BMX Freestyle is, the things we can do with our bikes in the air don’t make sense for a lot of people,” said Diehm.
“We are like gymnasts on a bike in the air.
“Even I am in awe when I sit back and watch other athletes competing in the sport.”
The other thing Diehm loves about the sport is what a tightknit community it is.
“BMX Freestyle is an amazing sport and once you get to know it and the community, it is like one big happy family,” said Diehm.
“Even though there is a lot of rivalry, no matter what country you are from, we always have fun and always congratulate the people around us.
“It’s a great sport to be part of.”