Hundreds gather to remember cycling champion Steve Smith

It was only fitting that a tribute Wednesday evening for Steve Smith was held at the Marie Davidson BMX Track in Nanaimo. That’s where the world downhill mountain-bike champion began racing as a kid after his mom, Tianna, traded a year’s worth of apple pies to buy her five-year-old son his first used BMX bike.

Hundreds gathered at Smith’s first track to remember his trailblazing legacy in Canadian cycling, during a silent memorial flag lap cycled in his honour.

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Smith, a legendary figure in Canadian downhill mountain-biking, died at age 26 from a massive brain injury suffered in an enduro-motorcycle crash Friday near Nanaimo. Smith was taken off life support Tuesday.

“This is devastating. Steve was a humble, motivated, dedicated and focused young man,” said family friend Michelle Corfield of Nanaimo, who helped drive Smith, along with her son and daughter, to events when they were younger.

“Steve was an amazing guy and amazing rider. He was one with the bike.”

Smith, who was born in Cassidy and honed his skills on Mount Prevost near Duncan, went on to become the UCI World Cup champion in 2013. He was nicknamed the “Canadian Chainsaw” because of his hell-bent, swashbuckling technique down the course.

“Steve had a style unlike any other rider,” said Corfield.

“When you saw that bike coming down the hill, you know it could only be him riding it.”

He was that distinctive.

Smith was overcoming injuries, that hindered his progress the past few years, and was the second-place finisher last month in the 2016 World Cup season-opening downhill race in Lourdes, France.

“Stevie’s passing leaves a huge hole in the Canadian cycling community, which is very tight knit,” said Corfield.

Professional road cyclist Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria, in the midst of racing the Giro d’Italia, said on Twitter: “Stevie Smith . . . [was] a true Vancouver Island legend, proper Canuck and incredible person . . . extremely devastating loss.”

Mountain biking is split into two disciplines. Cross-country, in which Hesjedal began his career, is a Summer Olympics sport while downhill is not. Yet even out of the Olympian spotlight, Smith’s performances commanded attention.

“We are really stunned and disheartened to hear of Steve’s passing . . . he was definitely the best downhill mountain biker Canada has ever known,” Jacques Landry, Cycling Canada high performance director, said in a statement.

“Steve left his mark by winning multiple national titles and winning the overall World Cup series in 2013, as well as three World Cup events. He will be greatly missed by the international downhill community, Canadian mountain bikers, and the people he was closest to.”

Gabe Fox, manager of the Devinci Global Racing Team, said in a statement: “Steve was the most successful Canadian gravity [downwhill] racer of all time. His passing leaves a huge hole in our hearts.”

A celebration of Smith’s life is planned for May 21 at 1 p.m. at the Vancouver Island Convention Centre in Nanaimo. Donations can be made to the “Stevie Smith Legacy Fund” at Proceeds will go to an initiative launched by Smith’s mother, Tianna, that will assist aspiring young Island athletes.

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