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.
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Bicycle Motocross, as it is officially called, has its origins in the garages of suburban America, where the forerunners of the sport took apart bicycles then reassembled them as the first dirt bikes. From those early days of the 1970s, BMX was essentially a revolt against an America of Little League and Pop Warner football.Skip to next paragraph
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"Not everyone likes to play baseball and football," says Robinson. "A lot of people associate [BMX] with the 'wild child' and people who like to go their own way."
This is precisely its allure for the IOC – a sport with a suburban edge, practiced on every neighborhood street corner. "We started jumping curbs as kids and it progressed to where we are now," says Kintner.
For BMX enthusiasts, the sport's Olympic debut couldn't have come too soon.
"I'm so happy to finally see it in the Olympics, because it's really that hard to do this," says James Bradley, a construction worker in Alpine, Calif., who came to see the US Olympic trials June 14. "Your physical and mental game have got to be 100 percent to do this."
BMX's introduction into the Olympics, however, has begun to change the culture of the sport. In the past, "I showed up at a race, got on my bike, and raced – there was no stretching out then or 'getting into the zone' or people experimenting with skin suits," says Kim Hayashi, a rider who missed making the Olympic team. "There are so many things I never associated with BMX that are now in play because of the Olympics."
She has hired a coach for her mental training. Four other BMX riders have been living here at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center since January. They train on its $500,000 replica of the Beijing track. In that time, there has been a cross-pollination of respect.
"I don't think I'd ever known an Olympian before," says Kintner, a Seattle native whose enthusiasm for the Games in past years has been limited mainly to fellow daredevils such as downhill skier Bode Miller. "But when you sit down and eat lunch with them and hear about their daily lives, it just takes on a whole new level of interest and support."
No freestyle – yet
Some question whether the IOC included the right form of BMX. While BMX racing is full of fathers – and mothers – who take up the sport as a way to find common ground with their teenage kids, BMX freestyle is the sport's cultural fringe.
They are the riders covered in tattoos who prowl skate parks after dark, click their heels in front of their handlebars while airborne, and celebrate their buddies' podium finishes by sending beer bottles whizzing over the heads of the crowd.
That, say insiders, is the sport the IOC was really after when it approached UCI for a Summer Games equivalent to snowboarding. But because freestyle didn't fall under the auspices of an international federation, it wasn't an option. Now, that's changing. Already, UCI has a signed a preliminary agreement of cooperation with BMX freestyle, and rumors are it will be on the program at the London Olympics in 2012.
For now, though, little can dampen the spirits of BMX racers excited about their sport's debut on the athletic world's glitziest stage. "When it was announced that [BMX racing] would be an Olympic sport, it just supercharged the sport," says Jerry Landrum, a white-haired, red-shoed, yellow-laced shaman of BMXmania.com. "This has taken it to a level I don't think any of us ever dreamed of."
New Games in Beijing
The following new sports will make their Olympic debut in the 2008 Summer Games.
•Men and women BMX riding
Riders will race on a 350-meter long track with an 8-meter high starting ramp. An average lap is expected to last under 35 seconds.
•Women's 3,000 meter steeplechase
A run with four obstacles per lap. The first three obstacles are movable, the last is a solid beam over a water pit.
•Women's foil and sabre fencing team event
A foil, a light thrusting weapon, and sabre, a light cutting and thrusting weapon are used in this fencing event
•Men and women's 10km marathon swim
A long-distance race in open-water and typically lasts less than two hours.
•Table tennis team event (replacing the doubles event)
Three players on a team. Best of five matches.
Source: International Olympic Committee, teamusa.org