Palmerston North free style motocross rider Levi Sherwood has capped off an amazing first year by being named best international rookie at the annual freestyle motocross (FMX) awards.
Sherwood made history at the X-Fighters in Mexico City last year, becoming the youngest ever to win an event on the Red Bull Tour at the age of 17.
Sherwood was competing in his first professional event and clinically beat the best riders in the world in front of 42,000 screaming fans.
Sherwood, who only found a week before the event that he was in the field, made FMX history, as the youngest rider to win a Red Bull X-Fighters event
Riding a KX450F – the only four-stroke that has ever been seen in at the huge competition – he qualified fourth for and had arguably the hardest run to the finals.
In the quarterfinals he beat Norwegian legend Andre Villa, then shocked the world when he closed out 2008 defending champion Mat Rebeaud in the semifinals.
Levi then met Japan’s Eigo Sato in the finals, but Sato was simply no match for the smooth skills, incredible flexibility and crazy extension that Levi has rapidly become known for.
Sherwood, who has earned the nicknames “Rubber Kid” and “Killer Kiwi” for his ridiculous extensions, said the victory was “pretty sweet”.
“It’s only just starting to sink in that I won one of the biggest FMX comps in the world.
“I definitely didn’t expect to win. I honestly thought that when I went up against Mat Rebeaud in the semis, that that would be the end of my night.
“I definitely didn’t expect to beat him and I just went out there and treated it like a final. When the results came in from the judges I was like, ‘whoa!'”
Sherwood described his first international competition against the best riders in the world before 42,000 people as “crazy”.
“In Mexico the bikes run weird because of the high altitude. My bike was running like rubbish, and the ramps were really small, so I just put all my expectations behind me and just decided to go out and have fun.
“I didn’t really feel like I had any pressure because I didn’t have anything to lose. The crowds were pretty nuts though – you couldn’t see them when you were riding because of the light show, but when I looked up when I finished my run and saw everyone screaming and waving those white bandannas it shocked me.”
That result in Mexico capped a remarkable breakthrough year for Sherwood, who took his riding fulltime when he left Palmerston North Boys’ High after Year 11. He has been riding motorbikes since he was five, and was the youngest member of the Crusty Demons stunt bike team when he began working with it at age 12.
In March, Sherwood was in the US negotiating a sponsorship deal with Red Bull (itself a major achievement for a young athlete) when a rider withdrew from the X-Fighters series, backed by the drinks company. He was offered the unexpected chance to fill in.
X-Fighters champ Robbie Maddison (who this year jumped London’s Tower Bridge with a backflip while the bridge was open 25 feet) is 10 years his senior.
“I plan to get a good 10 years out of it,” says Sherwood. “Once you hit 30, you’re kinda on your way out.”
Despite his deeds this year, Sherwood will need to sweet talk Red Bull bosses for direct entry into the next series.
© Photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com