For extreme sports fans, Olympics adds jumping cyclists
For the first time, the Summer Games will include BMX cyclists. Beijing wants some of the edginess that snowboarding added to the Winter Games.
Chula Vista, Calif.; and Chicago
The Summer Olympics have been searching for Jill Kintner.Skip to next paragraph
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It takes a peculiar sort of person to do what she does on the BMX racing circuit – jumping 40-foot gaps and plunging down three-story start ramps, pedaling furiously at speeds that would get cars a ticket in a school zone.
She is Evel Knievel on a dirt bike, and for all the Summer Olympics' cultural and athletic gravitas, it has never had what Kintner and her fellow riders offer: street cred among America's suburban set.
The addition of BMX racing to the Beijing Games is a clear attempt by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to bring snowboarding's extreme-sports chic to the summer side – exchanging sprinting lanes and starting blocks for 30-odd seconds of head-knocking, m*etal-twisting mayhem packaged for the Wii Generation.
The Winter Olympic Games turned to snowboarding and freestyle skiing largely out of necessity, struggling to stay relevant in a suburbanized world that had no connection to ski jumping or luging. But the program for the Summer Games is full to bursting – baseball and softball have already been cut from the 2012 London Games.
The inclusion of BMX adds to the Summer Games that element so conspicuous in the Winter Games, yet largely lacking in the warm-weather edition: danger.
The answer is that in each heat, eight people are going to do it on a bike, simultaneously, with little regard for their own limbs. On the start hill, speeds can reach 40 m.p.h., and considering that the race is usually won or lost during the first 10 pedals, the drop-in [entry to a ramp] can often look more like "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel than an Olympic race.
"You want to get in front, whether that means using an elbow or not," says Robinson. Adds Kyle Bennett, another member of the US Olympic BMX team: "You're going to get to see some crashes."
Lone female on the US team
Kintner, the lone female member of the team, confesses that the sport has taken its physical toll: She has competed with a knee injury that would end the career of many athletes. "It takes a certain type of person" to do BMX, she says.
Such as one who skydives, jumps from cliffs unbidden, and hurtles headlong down mountains on her bike – all activities that Kintner enjoys. But when she stands in the starting gate of the BMX track at the US training center in Chula Vista, Calif., she acknowledges she is scared.
"There are very few things that scare me," she says. "But these jumps, it's taken me awhile to build up the courage to do it. It's not easy for anyone."
Robinson agrees: "It's like doing a rollercoaster on a bike."