Liam Phillips: ‘My parents made huge sacrifices for us’

BMX Olympic hopeful Liam phillips with bike
In the frame: Olympic hopeful Liam Phillips was always BMX-mad Credit: Getty/Bryn Lennon

Build it and they will come – as they say in the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams. Pete and Sharon Phillips did exactly that for their BMX-mad children, Liam and his younger sister Charlie, demolishing and rebuilding a local track for them just a cycle ride from the family home in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset.

Pete and his construction company oversaw the complete reconstruction of the circuit long before it became an Olympic breeding ground. And the family even moved home from a village three miles from Burnham to be nearer Marine Drive, where the track is, so that their children could cycle to the venue themselves.

Sharon, meanwhile, gave up her point-to-point horse riding and eventing when BMX competition, from Burnham to Berlin and further afield, took over. Those foreign voyages were undertaken in a converted lorry that became home for three days most weeks.

Freewheeling: the family spent a lot of time on the road

Pete and Sharon Phillips are exceptional parents. “Both my parents worked tirelessly and it would have been impossible to achieve what I have without their support,” says Liam, 27, who is targeting a third Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this year.

“Equally they sacrificed their own working and social lives for me and my sister. Their social life centred on us.

“It’s a life-changing thing to support your kids in sport – and many people don’t realise that until they’re involved in it.

“My dad runs a company doing road repairs for the council and Mum works for Dad. They’ve always been flexible and were able to take me to races.

“When you’re not working, you’re not earning, though. Mum was really into equestrianism but when my sister and I got into BMX she was working in a racing yard and gave that up.”

Pete got so involved in running the BMX club in Burnham that he built the skills to start coaching within the national set-up, but there is an endearing matter-of-factness, verging on modesty, to how he helped develop his son.

“Their school, King Alfred’s, which is a sports college, was really understanding and allowed them time off,” he says. “We would pick the kids up on a Thursday after school, drive overnight in the lorry to the Czech Republic or eastern Germany, or to wherever the big race was, the kids would sleep in the cabin, wake in the morning, do the practice runs and compete.

“Then after the last trophy ceremony, we would be straight into the lorry for home, arrive on a Monday morning, drop them off at school and then go to work.”

Liam adds: “Through doing that, Dad got tagged with the national coach role and it was something he enjoyed, but it was basically because he was there doing it. I can win a race or I can finish last and he’s just happy I’m doing what I enjoy. He’s extremely proud when races go well but he’s never been a pushy parent.”

Such dedication from parents and children – in a low-pressure family setting – created the perfect environment for Liam’s talent and work ethic to fuse and flourish.

“Riding and racing is something that has always been ingrained in me, really,” Liam says. “I love what I do, I love riding my bike, I love doing BMX. I’ve done it since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to be an Olympic athlete.

“BMX was never on the [Olympic] agenda when I was a kid. When it was introduced to the Olympic programme, for me it became an obsession to try to turn a sport firstly into a career – leave school and do it full-time – and then to try to be successful at an Olympic Games.”

Liam has done exactly that and, as the No 1 in the world, an ambition burns to add an Olympic gold medal to his career CV.

He was “a skinny kid of 19” who went to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the first Games at which BMX was included, sent mainly to gain experience.

It was something of a miracle that he reached London 2012 at all, having broken a collarbone just 10 weeks beforehand, but unfortunately he crashed out of the final.

This time Liam hopes to stand on top of the podium in Rio and, if he does, it will not just be thanks to the hard graft he puts in at Manchester’s British Cycling HQ. It will be because of the sacrifices made by his parents all those years ago.

And their son is grateful. “When I was 15, Mum got a horse again,” he says. “It was a great feeling knowing she could go back and do that.”

More than in the gym, more than on the track, Liam Phillips, BMX racer, was built where the heart is: at home.