If it wasn’t tough enough or brave enough, throwing yourself metres into the air and pulling death-defying tricks for your country, if it wasn’t achievement enough to place fifth in the world, Australia’s first and only female freestyle BMX Olympian did it all with a torn knee ligament.
- Natalya Diehm is back in Australia after placing fifth at the Olympics while riding with “one leg”
- She ruptured a knee ligament two weeks before the games, felt it go during her first Olympics run but kept competing
- She’s already had four knee reconstructions and faces more operations but aims to keep competing
It was an injury Natalya Diehm was nursing for weeks going into the Tokyo games and one that had previously threatened to derail her career.
But halfway through her first run of the finals, after landing a backflip, an anterior cruciate ligament gave out.
“In the moment, I had two seconds to decide, ‘What am I going to do? Am I going to call it off or am I going to keep going?'” Diehm said, speaking from quarantine in Howard Springs.
So, in a true testament to the Australian spirit, Diehm soldiered on, completing the run and bagging a score of 86 (from a possible 99.99).
And as if “pushing through the pain” once wasn’t enough, Diehm went out there and completed a second run.
“I just wanted to go out there and just try my best and show everyone that I’m here and I’m strong and no matter what, I’m just going to have some fun,” she said.
She did a 360, pulled a tail whip (spinning the frame of the bike around while holding the bars), and came home fifth.
It’s an achievement most people wouldn’t even dream of.
‘I knew the risks’
Diehm had her first knee reconstruction at 16 and she’d had three more before she got the call for Toyko.
Then two weeks before flying out, she ruptured her ACL for the fifth time but kept it a secret.
“I was lucky enough that it didn’t put me out of the event altogether, but I knew coming in the risks of my knee popping out or not holding up and there might be some pain,” she said.
‘She’s always been strong’
Diehm’s father Justin admits he began to worry seeing his daughter getting off her bike and limping down the stairs to the waiting area.
He was watching with Diehm’s family and close friends from a backyard in central Queensland. where Diehm hails from.
“Her mum was pretty concerned. I was pretty concerned about how she was and what was going through her head,” Mr Diehm said.
Then she rang – in the middle of a competition – to tell them, in no uncertain terms, that her knee was in bad shape but she had every intention of riding again.
“She just wanted to prove that, despite it all, I’m going to give it my best shot,” Justin Diehm said.
“She’s always been like that; she’s always been strong and stubborn. She’s always been able to get through and put a smile on and away she goes.
“For her to push through, rightly or wrongly, showed some tenacity and absolute Australian grit.
“We’ll wait and see,” Diehm said, laughing.
For starters, she doesn’t want any sympathy. All she’s “sad” about is that the Olympic journey is “already over”.
“To be there in an environment with so many other athletes and hearing their stories and their journey and seeing my friends again that I haven’t seen I nearly two years was amazing.”
“I can’t think about the ‘what ifs’.”
She has knee surgery booked for when she’s out of quarantine.
“It’ll take two surgeries to fix that knee … I don’t know too far ahead in the future,” she said.
But one thing’s for certain, Diehm’s not giving up, because pulling gravity-defying tricks for her country is what she wants to do all over again.
“The next (Olympics) is nearly three years away and … I’d definitely love to go,” she said.
“Watching it now still makes me cry. I cant believe how much support I have.”