LONDON — As the camera panned to Brooke Crain at the starting gate of the women's Olympic BMX final, she raised her left glove off her handle bar and flashed a message written on her glove.
Three letters: "A-M-V."
It was a personal tribute to Arielle Martin-Verhaaren, the 27-year-old rider who suffered serious injuries when her bike chain broke during her last training run for London on July 30.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Martin suffered "severely lacerated liver and collapsed lung in the resulting crash." Her injuries made it too dangerous for her to join the team in London, even as a spectator. After three surgeries, she's still hospitalized.
It would have been Martin's first Olympics; instead, it was Crain's, as the U.S. team's designated alternate. It could have been Martin racing in the final of the London Games' women's BMX competition in Olympic Park; instead, it was Crain.
"I'm here representing her. I was just the alternate. I'm riding for her," she said.
Racing against the world's elite riders, Crain had the slowest time in the final, finishing in eighth place at 40.286 seconds. Mariana Pajon of Columbia won gold at 37.706, after rolling through the heats.
"I was just glad I was in those finals," said Crain.
After the horrific crash she had in preliminaries, it's remarkable Crain was.
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Crain, 19, discovered she was replacing Martin the night before the team was leaving for London. She would have flown over with the team anyway, lodging with them and soaking up the Olympic experience. But now she wasn't a tourist — she was a competitor for a medal.
"We all trained together. We had five girls that could have been in that final right there," she said. "I trained like I was going to be competing here."
In Thursday's seeding heats, Crain's Olympic dream appeared like it might end. On the last straightaway, her back wheel clipped a hill.
Her torso plowed into the ground, her body lifted up and then slammed to the ground a second time. She was helped up off the course, but eventually rode off slowly on her bike. U.S. team officials later said she was sore but anticipated she would race in Friday's semifinals.
The crash nearly taketh away, and then the crash giventh in BMX: In the second semifinal race, a huge collision of riders around the first turn left just three racing towards the finish line. One of them was Crain, who placed third in the race to bolster her chances to advance. One of the riders caught in the mayhem: Alise Post, a U.S. rider many expected to advance.
Despite the crash, Post was third overall entering the final race of the heat.
That's when disaster struck for the 21-year-old rider: With four hills to go before the finish, Post crashed her bike and needed to be helped from the track.
She finished eighth; Crain was third in the semifinals.
"I'm just in a bit of shock about what happened," Post said after the race. "I honestly couldn't tell you what happened. It's just a blur. I fully expected myself to be on the podium today.
"There were more crashes than we normally see," she said of the Olympic course. "It's a big stage. Everyone's trying to ride above their heads a little bit."
Crain and Connor Fields were the lone Americans in the final. Fields wiped out in the last turn in the men's final, aggressively trying to make up ground and finishing seventh in 1:03.033.
It wasn't a great day for American BMX at the London Games, which is still facing an uphill battle against other nation's sports federations that are government funded. But it was a proud day for Crain, racing in front of her mother, father and aunt, who hastily landed tickets -- finishing her unlikely journey to the Olympic final.
"It's a great experience. I never raced in front of this many people in my life," she said. "It's just another bike race at the end of the day. Just with extra decorations."
All the while, her fallen teammate was on her mind.
"She's doing good. She's making a good recovery," said Crain of Arielle Martin. "She wished me good luck."
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