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Olympic BMX rider Kyle Bennett dies in car accident

Oct 16, 2012, 10:34 AM EST

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast AP

The first American to qualify for BMX Cycling as an Olympic event, Kyle Bennett, 33, died in a single-vehicle car crash early Sunday morning in his hometown of Conroe, Texas.

“Kyle was a pioneer in Olympic BMX and an inspiration to those of us that knew him,” said USA Cycling CEO Steve Johnson in a statement. “He will be sorely missed.”

Bennett was reportedly rushing to the aid of his fiancée, Lynsie, whose car had been broken into. Bennett wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

Bennett competed in his first national competition at age 9 and turned pro at age 18 after he graduated high school, eventually becoming a three-time champion in the National Bicycle League and winning International Cycling Union world titles in 2002, ’03 and ’07.

Bennett qualified as part of the three-person U.S. men’s BMX team for the 2008 Beijing Games, the year the sport debuted as an Olympic event, but was knocked out in the semis.

Cycling was a family affair for the Bennetts: His grandfather was a motorcycle shop owner who encouraged his grandson to race bikes, and Kyle’s stepfather was a professional rider who helped him train.

Bennett’s smooth riding style earned him the nickname “Butter.” He was a champion for his sport as it gained global prominence and told the Houston Chronicle in 2008 he wanted BMX to become a household name.

“It’s such an easy sport to get involved in. All you need is a bike, long pants, a shirt and a helmet.”

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