Molly Simpson stands on a BMX track and hoists the Canadian flag overhead.Leah Hennel/COC
Leah Hennel/COC

BMXer Molly Simpson races towards Paris 2024

Team Canada BMX racer Molly Simpson is heading into the 2024 UCI BMX Racing World Championships in Rock Hill, South Carolina with Paris preparation in mind. 

Simpson secured two fourth-place finishes on the UCI World Cup circuit this season, following her silver medal at the Santiago 2023 Pan Am Games. The world championships offer the 21-year-old another opportunity to soak in the learnings from a high pressure event and improve her world ranking before the Olympic qualification period closes on June 2.

We caught up with Simpson to chat about her journey into sport and how she’s grown as an athlete and role model for young girls in BMX. Tell me about your journey into BMX racing.

MS: I played hockey for a long time and always knew I wanted to be an Olympian–I thought it would be for hockey! And then I ended up trying BMX one day and loved it ever since. I did continue to play hockey and then quit around 2016 and fully made the switch to BMX. What was your experience like at the Santiago 2023 Pan Am Games? How did it feel to snag that silver medal?

MS: That was definitely a highlight of the year. The atmosphere, the village, the athletes, the people, everything about it was really special.

As well, experiencing that level of pressure–you could definitely tell it wasn’t like a regular competition. And that’s what the Olympics are going to feel like. Everybody says, “Oh, it’s just another match or game or race.” But no, it’s the Olympics. So you’re going to feel tension, pressure. And I think the Pan Ams kind of showed me what that feels like, so it’ll help me leading into Paris.

Molly Simpson raises her hand in the air while wearing her silver medal
Molly Simpson of Canada celebrates after winning a silver medal in the Women’s BMX Racing during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Sunday, October 22, 2023. Photo by Leah Hennel/COC Were there any big differences that you noticed between competing at the U23 level and moving into the elite level?

MS: I think U23 was really good for me because I learned how to handle the pressure; I learned how to win under pressure. And then I moved into elite and that knowledge was waiting and I’m like, “Okay, I know how to do this.” What areas or skills are you focusing on developing this year?

MS:  In the gym, just all around strength. We do a lot of lifts like power cleans, snatches, weight lifting style. Everything needs to be really explosive and really quick. So we’re just getting all those lifts as heavy as we can and building a bit of mass as well.

On the track we’re working on my track speed. I have a really good start, that’s my strong suit. But now how can I do that around the track and become a complete rider? I feel like I’m good at some things and then some things I’m not very good at, which is any athlete in any sport. Are you a ‘need for speed’ kind of person in all aspects of your life?

MS: I’m definitely an adrenaline junkie.

BMXer Molly Simpson flies through the air
Molly Simpson of Canada competes in the Women’s BMX Racing during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Sunday, October 22, 2023. Photo by Leah Hennel/COC If you were going back to when you first started out in BMX, is there anything you would tell yourself?

MS: I think don’t sell yourself short. Growing up it was harder because BMX is super male dominated. So being a young girl, it was pretty scary. Now, I want to inspire those young girls. You can get to an Olympic position, you can go to the Games, you can be the same calibre as the boys. You can jump the same as a man. You definitely feel smaller when you’re a younger girl and you’re watching the boys fly over these jumps and you’re like, wow. So I’m just trying to inspire that way. I think I would tell my younger self, you can do it, you can do that. Do you feel like you’ve seen a transition, even throughout your career, in terms of representation?

MS: Even in the elite level, we have way more women. The U23 class is bringing more young girls into the sport because it gives them a chance to compete against their calibre in U23. And then they move into elite and feel more confident. We didn’t have that U23 class a couple of years ago, so it was a little more cutthroat. So, I think we’re seeing an increase in girls getting into the sport, which is cool.

I kind of said U23 was like, I’m just getting into the water and then now I’m swimming with the sharks. I guess I’m one of those sharks swimming with the other sharks out there! Is there any advice from coaches you’ve had throughout life that’s really stuck with you?

MS: My sports psych told me one time that you choose where you allocate your energy.

If I’m feeling negative or if I’m feeling down on myself or not confident, I’m clearly putting my energy towards those thoughts. So I need to take a step back and put them into a more positive area or somehow put that away in my mind and come back to it later. Just trying to bring yourself to the present moment and if you can bring your energy there, then you’re going to perform at your best.

Molly Simpson sprints away from her BMX competitors
Molly Simpson of Canada competes in the Women’s BMX Racing during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Sunday, October 22, 2023. Photo by Leah Hennel/COC How do you feel that you’ve grown as an athlete and person throughout your career thus far?

MS: Over a year ago [in December 2022] I ended up getting an infection from my wisdom teeth [removal] and was in the ICU for seven days. I was on a feeding tube and a breathing tube and my organs were failing and I was almost dying. So I think looking back at that now, as I’m sitting here doing this interview, I’m like, I can do anything in life. After almost losing my life, now I’m more confident in myself that I can really tackle anything in sport and also in life. If you weren’t an Olympian in your sport, in which sport would you want to be one  and why?

MS: I’ll say skateboarding, but I also think like halfpipe snowboarding or slopestyle would be cool. Action sports generally are right up my alley. I do snowboard here and there. What do you absorb from racing against Mariana Pajón [two-time Olympic champion]?

MS: Every time I’m in the gate with her, I’m like, okay, like that’s the queen, it’s Mariana Pajón! I got second to her [in Santiago], but I was like, You know what? That’s an icon. Like, it’s cool to get second to her, but it’s also motivating for me because of all that she’s accomplished. So it’s like, how much farther can we go? What else can we accomplish? It’s motivating for sure.