You could call Weston Pope a kid that never grew up. You could also call him a world champion.

They both fit.

Pope earned the latter title at the United Cycling International BMX World Championships in Vancouver Island, Canada. The 19-year-old Clarksville graduate was crowned the best in the world at BMX racing in the 17-24 age group by the narowest of margins. He won the final race by half a bike length over a rider from southern California.

“World champion — that has a nice little ring to it, doesn’t it?” said Pope, who is also known to local sports fans for his four seasons on the Clarksville basketball team. “But half a bike length isn’t much in a 40-second race.”

Pope certainly never had any idea it would get this far in a sport he began in his childhood. Not the world championship and certainly not a scholarship to Lindsey Wilson, where he is readying for his sophomore year.

“They are paying me to go to school for riding a bike,” he said, sounding more than a little shocked. “How cool is that?”

He even sounds a little younger than his 19 years when he talks about biking and everything it’s brought him. Trips with his team. A shot at the Olympics, where BMX racing will debut in 2008. Hiking though rain forests in Canada.

But there is nothing childish about the way he treats his sport, one that many believe to something better left behind as adulthood approaches. His schedule reads more like Barry Bonds than Barney the Dinosaur.

It begins with an eating regimen that he describes as “crazy strict.” That’s before leg workouts on Mondays and Wednesdays and then bike sprinting on Tuesdays and Fridays. Then he still has to find the time to ride his home course at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, which also happens to be the site of this month’s BMX National Championships.

“That really doesn’t describe everything I do,” Pope said. “I usually find a way to pedal every day. I can’t go without it.”

While he looks forward to the Olympics in 2012, the next challenge will be living up to his world champ billing at the nationals, where he will, naturally, go in as the No. 1-ranked rider.

“If I don’t win it, people will say, ‘well, why’d you win the worlds, you can’t even win nationals,’” Pope said. “I have to prove I should be the world champ.”

Pope may be a kid at heart, but he says it’s his calm demeanor that has gotten him so far. It paid off, particularly at the world championships.

“I was physically prepared, but I was probably more mentally prepared,” he said. “It’s hard to forget it’s the world championships, but I was maybe most relaxed kid out there. You have to remember it’s just a two-wheel bike race. It’s easy to forget it’s fun.”

For Pope, it became more than that a long time ago. A kid who missed the initial BMX boom of the 1980’s, he began his training with an opponent pushed his pride more than his legs.

“The first three years, I always had to race a girl,” he said. “I said I was going to quit if I couldn’t beat this girl. She never beat me.”

Not many people have been able to beat Pope recently, but he says he’s been running more than a one-man race since the beginning.

“I have to thank my mom and pop for the support,” said Pope, whose parents see most of his races that don’t take place in faraway locales. “They have done everything they can do.”

While the responsibilites keep piling up — a possible major in secondary education, the looming spectre of the Olympics, or even the mantle of world champion — Pope remains definant on one point.

“I’m a 19-year-old kid who forgot to stop riding a bike when he got his license,” he said. “I guess I always will be.”

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