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'I'm the guy': Brandon Loupos is the Olympic gold favourite you've never heard of

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The Aussie BMX riders eyeing Olympic history (1:02)

X Games stars Brandon Loupos and Logan Martin are favourites to qualify for the first BMX Freestyle event at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. (1:02)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- He's the world champion most people wouldn't recognise if they walked past him in the street.

Brandon Loupos is an X-Games gold medallist, and following the news that BMX Freestyle would feature at the Tokyo Olympics, he's one of the best gold medal chances that Australia has in 2020, should the Olympics go ahead.

Until 2017, the 26-year-old from Sydney wasn't even sure he'd have the chance to compete at the Games, let alone be a decent chance for gold, but he says as soon as the call was made that his discipline would feature in Tokyo, he switched into Olympics mode.

"I was at the X-Games qualifiers in Boise, Idaho in 2017 when I found out BMX Freestyle was going to be at the Olympics in 2020. As soon as I found, I was like 'that's the next stepping stone, that's the new goal'," he tells ESPN during a short break in a training session at RampFest indoor skate park, in Melbourne's inner west.

Loupos is wearing an armoury of extreme sports gear; after all, he's here for a few hours, meticulously practicing, breaking down and improving his jumping skills.

The sport has come a long way since Loupos was, in his words, mucking around with his mates at skate parks and dirt jumps in the suburbs; it was never a dream to make the Olympics purely because BMX Freestyle never seemed like an obvious or logical candidate to be included.

In fact, Loupos still pinches himself knowing he's making a living doing something he still does with friends when he has a spare weekend.

"I still can't believe [it's a job]. As a kid, I didn't think it would really be an option to be a pro BMX rider, but now it's here and ... I'm thankful to have such a great opportunity," he tells ESPN.

"But [pursuing a career in BMX freestyle] was a lightbulb moment for me. As soon as I saw Dave Mirra and Ryan Nyquist doing tricks at the X-Games on the TV back in like 2003, I was like 'that's it, that's what I want to do'. Everyone thought I was crazy - my grandparents, my dad... but as soon as I showed them that it was a real sport and this is what it could be, they were behind it.

"10 years ago I wouldn't ever have believed I'd be at the level I am now. I still do love riding with my friends, and contests are great -- after all, that's what pays the bills -- but I always love riding with my friends and having a laugh.

"When it's over, I guess I'll figure out something else to do."

2019 was a career year for the Aussie, who splits his time living in Sydney and the United States; he won World Championship gold in Chengdu after a bronze medal finish the year before.

Going into that meet, Loupos said he'd had the world champion's rainbow jersey as his phone background since the 2018 edition, and to come away with his maiden world title was an "unbelievable" reward for the work he puts into the sport.

"It was definitely one of the best moments of my life and it's something I won't forget for as long I live. Holding up the Australian flag, I just felt like it was the moment I've waited for, but at the same time, I've just got to recreate it in Tokyo," he says with a nod.

And he's a great chance to take home a medal as just nine competitors will take to the bikes in Tokyo. Originally, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) set the end of the qualifying period to be May 11, but the governing body has since called for the qualification process to retroactively end at March 3 due to the threat of COVID-19 - the last time all competitors could move freely around the world to get to events.

Under the complicated process, two spots will be awarded to the nation that sits as world No. 1 following the BMX Freestyle Olympic qualifying period, while one spot will be awarded to each of the nations ranked No. 2 through 5. At March 3, Australia was ranked No. 1, with Loupos the second ranked Australian behind good friend Logan Martin.

The remaining two spots will be then allocated to the two highest ranked riders from the 2019 World Championships whose nations did not qualify overall - these are likely to go to riders from nations who may only have one competitor and did not rank in the top five on the nation rankings.

Loupos in confident that Australia has a strong hand going into the Games.

"I can only see [Tokyo] going one way and that's with an Australian gold medal," he says. "Whether it's Logan, myself or the both of us, we're going to go out and do the expected.

"Being the first Olympians ever in our sport is amazing in itself let alone us possibly winning a gold medal. Just being there and a part of it would be amazing. At the end of the day it could be the Olympics or a little C1 event, but my goal is still to go there and do my run that's going to win the contest."

Ramming the point home, Loupos confidently declares Australia as the nation to beat for gold, because Aussie riders are, through his experiences, hungrier than any others on the freestyle circuit.

He says Australia doesn't have the 'fancy' infrastructure like they do in the States, and that only motivates him, Martin and others to be the best despite the shortcomings in competition-grade skate parks and other facilities.

"We own the game," he says confidently. "Our hunger is what separates us from the rest. Other nations have better training facilities and probably better riders, but we have the hungriest riders. Logan and I are just as hungry as each other and we're out there to win and not get second, and others might be intimidated by that.

"Australians own the sport and it's growing, not just around the world, but specifically in Australia, and it's only going to get bigger. I can only imagine what [Australia's scene] would be like once we have parks like they have at Woodward in the States."

But unless Australia secures the No. 1 ranking by the May cut-off date, only one Aussie will be packing his bag, something Loupos isn't too concerned by heading into a heavy run of qualifying events.

And with its Olympics debut set to give the sport a worldwide audience it hasn't seen before, Loupos says there remains massive room for growth in BMX Freestyle.

"There's so much potential in freestyle BMX because it's not a team sport. Anyone can pick up a bike and really do whatever they want, whether you want to ride a race track or head to a skate park and ride with your friends, or even just ride out the front door of your house ... going to work, school or using a bike a transportation, jumping off curbs and gutters.

"There's so much potential that's in a bike, so not just BMX, but it's got a big opportunity to grow and so much potential to be so much bigger than what it already is. I can't wait to see what the future holds."

Riding the ups and downs of BMX Freestyle has been a journey from childhood for Loupos, and with the biggest jump of his career looming in Tokyo, he hopes that win or lose, he can prove to other kids that they too can make a living doing what they love.

"To be 80 years old many years down the track from now, for a kid to say 'hey Brandon Loupos was the reason I started riding BMX', it would be all worth it for me," he tells ESPN.

"I want to be an inspiration to kids and really anyone who wants to ride a bike, I want to be an inspiration to people and I want people to better themselves and I want to promote that to everyone around me."