The Wheel Thing

"When Niki Gudex took a nasty tumble while snowboarding, she had no idea it would lead to a whole new career. And, not being content with being very, very good in the saddle, she then got herself a bona fide qualification that means Sport is desperately trying to create a vacancy."

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The young Niki Gudex had high hopes of making it as a snowboarder. Then she broke her back and her dreams were over. Well, when we say "broke her back", that's a male version of events (as in man flu for a common cold, bronchitis for a common cold, pneumonia for a common cold... you get the picture). But, in Sport's book, two broken vertebrae constitutes a broken back, good and proper.

Spending two months flat on her back, though not needing surgery, the Australian wondered if she would ever snowboard again. But, sure enough, she was soon back out at Thredbo, the Aussie winter sports paradise, ready to go again. Somehow, though, Miss Gudex wasn't quite the force of old. Then, for no good reason, she went for a ride on a bike. She was bitten by the mountain-biking bug there and then.

And so, on returning home to Sydney, she bought a bike and, for the hell of it, entered a race. She won.

Being a natural competitor, Gudex was determined to make the most of her newly discovered talents, so she entered more races. She won the lot. Within a year, she was the Australian national champion and taking part in the 2001 Downhill World Championships - although her preferred discipline today is the cross country.

"In my first ever race I was hallucinating - it was 40°C and I hadn't thought to take on any water," she said recently. "But I had a great time."

In 2003, she won the Australian Cross Country Series Championship and again represented her country at the world event. By now, though, she was also attracting attention for the way she looked. Clearly she was no ordinary sportswoman - one magazine named her the sexiest in Australia, and she has made regular appearances in lists of the most beautiful Australian women in the past seven years. What's more, she actually enjoys modelling. "It's fun to do it and see that side of myself," she said. "It's something completely different to getting up at 6am in the pouring rain and pushing yourself so hard you vomit."

Degrees of success Vomiting - and a tendonitis problem - aside, Gudex continued to impress in the saddle. Her record in domestic races across Australia was impressive, rarely finishing out of the top three in either the downhill or cross country.

Not only that, but in 2002 she even managed to graduate from University with a BA in creative arts, majoring in graphic design and new media. Here at Sport we think she could probably stand in for our art editor, though he'd be furious at the thought of her sitting in his chair if he wasn't there too. It is interesting, though, that despite being a world-class athlete, she still calls herself a ‘mountain biker/graphic designer'.

As more and more modelling contracts poured in (she currently has a list of endorsements as long as your arm), there were those who questioned whether Gudex would retain the desire to continue mountain biking at the highest level - but she has proven those doubters wrong and declared her continuing commitment to the sport, still gunning as she is for that elusive world title.

It's true that Australian girls populate this feature more than the law of averages dictates they should. But, when they look like Niki Gudex and have the skills to work at Sport, who are we to argue?

Profile: Simon Caney. "Niki Gudex - The Wheel Thing" Sport Magazine (UK), 5th October 2007

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