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19 Dec 2023

BMX prodigy Freia Challis claims third place in SportsAid’s One-to-Watch Award 2023

BMX star Freia Challis believes leaving the boys behind helped her to secure an emotional third-place finish in SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award 2023. The 15-year-old, from Halstead in Essex, was originally selected as one of 10 shortlisted athletes and was surprised to be presented with her trophy by idol Bethany Shriever at the National Cycling Centre.

Freia Challis and Beth Shriever

The annual Award, launched in 2006, recognises Britain’s brightest young sporting prospects and has previously been won by Olympic champions Tom Daley and Alex Yee and Paralympic gold medallist Hollie Arnold. The top 10 athletes have been selected from around 1,000 rising stars, supported by SportsAid, across more than 60 different sports in 2023.

Freia is following in Olympic gold medallist Shriever’s tyre tracks after the 24-year-old, who also started racing at Braintree BMX Club, came second place in the running for the One-to-Watch Award in 2017. 

“It was amazing,” said Freia, who received her SportsAid support from Thompson Trust this year. “I was so shocked when Beth brought the trophy over, I couldn't really believe it at first. “And then it has sunk in as I have looked at the trophy, it is amazing. It is just about getting the sport out there because BMX isn't really well-known, so being nominated and BMX being put out there is a big part of it. But then also recognising all the training that I've done, and the achievements I’ve had is really good and I'm really happy with it.

“My dad said ‘Freia, have you seen the people that have done it before and the winners?’ And just seeing those who have gone on to achieve Olympic medals and gone so far in their sport. Then seeing that I've been recognised for that not even at the peak of my pathway, I'm just so happy and this is definitely a boost in confidence.”

Freia has been recognised after a stellar year where she claimed age-group world and European titles. The Hedingham School student also made the step up to race in the senior women’s category at national level, winning on her debut in the National BMX Racing Series. Previously, Freia competed in the boys’ category and has now been welcomed into the Women’s Championship, which also sees her racing against Shriever.

“I went into the Women's Championship this year after racing in the boys for around four years,” said Freia. “I did my time racing with the boys and I upped my skills, upped my speed in racing and making the step into the women's this year was a positive because it gave me an insight into what the future would be like. Mixing with the girls who are older and racing on the world circuit for GB was really good and obviously to race with Beth was a massive highlight of the year.

“They've taken me under their wing, they treat me like I'm their age. I don't think they really see me as someone younger than them. It's definitely been a good year, meeting new people and making new friendships in that group.”

Freia was born in 2008, the year BMX racing made its debut in the Olympics, and since first taking up the sport has highlighted Los Angeles 2028 as when she wants to make her own Olympic bow.

She added: “I've always said, ‘I really want to go to the Olympics, I'm going to bring back the gold medal to my hometown, to my family and show all the training that I've done and put into the sport.’ 2028. That is the goal. It's a bit of pressure saying that but I see it as a goal and every week of training, every race of the season is a goal to reach.  

“It's just another goal on the path to developing as a rider, it's pushing me in training. It is definitely in the back of my head, building me up and making me push more in training and while it is five years away, still in every training session it is like ‘LA 2028.’”

SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award is backed by Royal Bank of Canada – a long-standing supporter of the charity celebrating 10 years of partnership in 2023. Each of the top 10 shortlisted athletes have received cash boosts and special in-person visits at their training environments to celebrate their achievements.