Going for the gold

A dark shadow flies through the air contrasting against the bright blue sky as Owen Akopiantz twists his bike beneath him, lands and continues toward another jump.

“My ultimate goal is to be in the Olympics,” Lopez islander Akopiantz said.

Akopiantz took up BMX riding when he was young, watching older Lopez youths jump and spin. He is currently practicing for upcoming competitions to set him on the path toward the Olympics.

Over time, people began telling Akopiantz that he was pretty good at the sport. His attitude regarding BMX slowly changed from a fun hobby to serious competition. He explained that when he first began planning to get into BMX on a competitive level, he believed all he should think about was biking; then he realized he simply needed to organize and prioritize his time.

For three hours every other day, Akopiantz can be found on his bike spinning, jumping and doing tricks. On alternating days, to ensure he is changing things up and working out the rest of his body, Akopiantz goes to the gym or runs.

“The routine does get interrupted sometimes. I just had midterms,” Akopiantz said.

Making time can occasionally be an issue, Akopiantz said, three hours is as long as he usually goes.

“I practice until I feel myself start to overthink things, get too much in my head,” Akopiantz said.

Over the years, Akopiantz has come to better understand his own body, he connected the drop in focus after three hours of riding to low blood sugar and physical exhaustion.

“My body actually needs a break at that point,” he said, noting that like any other sport, BMX uses a lot of energy and calories. “You have tons of endorphins running through your body while you are working out, so you may not even realize you have low blood sugar.”

BMX stands for bicycle motocross. BMX bikes are smaller and shorter than the average street bike, with taller handlebars and thicker tires. They’re well designed for riders to spin and perform tricks easier, according to Akopiantz. The sport became officially recognized by the International Cycling Union in 1993 and made its debut onto the Olympic stage in Beijing in summer 2008.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics website describes the event as:

“An adrenaline-fuelled mix of outrageous tricks and jumps, taking place over a series of ramps and large obstacles, all set up within a 30mx50m park. Athletes complete two one-minute runs each, looking to impress judges with the difficulty, originality, style, flow, risk, height and execution of their tricks.”

But don’t look for Akopiantz in Tokyo for the Olympics just yet.

“I don’t think I’ll be ready for the 2020 games,” he said. “I’m really aiming for the 2024 Summer Olympics.”

To get there, Akopiantz will begin competing across the country. According to Akopiantz, the more successful he is, the more points he will receive, and the more points he accrues the closer he becomes to qualifying for the World Series. The series qualifies riders for the Olympics. Akopiantz said his first competition will be in December. From that competition on, his qualifying points will start adding up.

Akopiantz graduated from Lopez High School in 2018. After spending a year at college, he is back home taking online classes in electrical engineering and working at Village Bicycles.

For his journey toward the gold, Akopiantz noted he will need all the support he can get. The Lopez community has been behind him from the start, he added.

“They have been there for me since the beginning,” he said.