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From Malta to the BMX World Championships in Glasgow – Gianni Zahra

UCI poster
Gianni Zahra represented Malta at the BMX World Championships in an incredible achievement for the young rider.

You don’t get much bigger than this! On the 5th of August, the 2023 UCI BMX World Championships commenced in Glasgow, with Maltese rider Gianni Zahra in the pack. 

When BOMBA heard we had a local taking part in the BMX World Championship, we HAD to find out his story. We know we know, it’s not surf, but hear us and Gianni out – if this story doesn’t empower or inspire you, we don’t know what will. This type of news should be shouted from the rooftops, but sadly local news didn’t bother. It’s not football after all, in their eyes. Don’t worry folks, BOMBA’s got your back and we’re stoked to meet an athlete from a different, yet so similar world. An extreme sport that we all love, that surfers often thrive in too, and vice versa. 

“This was a big step up… and I was in the deep end.” – Yet you wouldn’t say Gianni Zahra looked phased as we sat down for a drink at Salumeria. This human, even at 24, has always had a calm demeanor and outlook. He’s years ahead mentally, both on the bike and off it. 

BMX rider infront of Haro
Gianni represented Malta in the BMX World Championships

Put Gianni in a high-pressure kitchen, he’ll cook. Put Gianni on a super yacht, he’ll impress, put him anywhere and you know he’ll thrive. Put him amongst the 66 best riders in the world, no problemo! 

Gianni was hand-picked to represent Malta in the BMX World Championships in Glasgow by the president of the Malta Cycling Association and the BMX Association John Zammit. “I was very honoured, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This was my first ever international competition, and for it to be at the highest level, was a big step. I was thrown in the deep end and had to get to grips with it quick.”

And that, my friends, is what we often call the tip of the iceberg.

Naturally, in Malta, our levels are very different. Our athletes, surfers, riders be they what they may have challenges that go beyond the physical world. Dedication levels are sliced due to professional commitments around jobs, and funding is often practically nonexistent in extreme sports. As we mentioned, even the local media won’t touch us. 

Get to an international event, and you’ll see each rider backed by a coach. That coach backed by an assistant. Physios on demand, warm up bikes to keep conditioned. Sponsors. The works.

Our rider, the wildcard, had it quite different, but yet was made to feel right at home due to the brilliance of the BMX community, and his open attitude. 

“This is the highest point of BMX competitions, it’s on par with the Olympic Games and the riders were the best in the business. I had been following them and idolizing them all these years, so being there was humbling.”

BMX riders pose for a photo
Gaining this experience is key for local athletes

When Gianni got to the park, not only did he have to get to grips with good auld British weather, as the contest is held outside, but he’s now surrounded by pros, in front of a massive crowd, an MC, and about to ride giant ramps.

“The smallest ramp at this park was two feet bigger than the biggest we have in our indoor – that’s the distinction. It was quite a challenge.”

You don’t get further away from a comfort zone, but yet, again, Gianni, calm, cool and collected was unphased.

“The gap between me and all of these riders was considerable, but it didn’t feel like that, because its so welcoming, the nature of this event goes against the ethos of BMX. It’s more about development, fun and supporting each other. I had some of the world’s best riders supporting me all the way saying ‘Man just have fun, enjoy it.’”.

“Man, just have fun, enjoy it.” A simple phrase, but a profound one. Oh, and that came from a three-time gold medalist in the biggest US event, Kevin Peraza.

Back in Glasgow, Kieran Reilly grabbed the Rainbow Jersey in first place after an unreal run, becoming the men’s BMX World Champion on home soil and he’s eyeing Olympic Gold next.

Gianni was rooting for him, impressed by his talent, style and discipline. “He’s been on everyone’s radar for some time now, his progression and skill are taking the world by storm, and for his very young age is already accomplishing many world firsts.”

The experience gained by Gianni will pedal him deeper into the sport. Just witnessing the levels is already eye-opening, and now he’s hungry for more. “I am extremely competitive by nature” and this exposure has only whet his appetite for more.

More competitions will no doubt come, but looking back on this contest and the positive impact it’s having on Gianni’s life is brilliant. “The way I got treated, the people I met, my competitors, it all humbled me and empowered me.” The ethos is a simple one. Gianni loves to show people new tricks. “I want them to do it better than me, so then I can do it better than them.” He gets along with all riders, especially the younger greener ones and in a nutshell, karma paid off, in abundance as he got supported, welcomed and loved by the international community.

“I came out of this stronger than I ever thought I could be. I’m hungry for more. I’m trying to incorporate more discipline, pushing myself where the local rider doesn’t, not due to lack of talent, but because we dont have that mentality or avenue.” The benefits of exposure to the real world are limitless.

“I am humbled by this whole experience, and it just shows: be good, do good, and good will come to you. Life is too short to be a [c-bomb]. Just enjoy it.

It’s an honour and privilege to know Gianni and dive into his world. Malta is blessed with talent and stories like this need to be exposed so more athletes can realise their dreams. It’s the only way we can elevate and build on what we have in our communities. We hope you enjoyed reading this one – the learning points are endless. Any extreme athlete or hobbyist has a home here at BOMBA, so slide into our DMs on Insta, let’s chat!

See you at the next comp, Gianni, keep shredding.

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Gianni Zahra represented Malta at the BMX World Championships in an incredible achievement for the young rider.