BMX in BeijingAugust 22, 2008
You’ve got to love the Wall Street Journal cos when I pick something up from their reporters it is so darn good – big shout of thanks for this article by Stephanie Kang for what you read below, fascinating stuff – and also to xllRAPST4Rllx for the You Tube video you will find below.
They flew down a 30-foot ramp, jostling for position along steep ramps and dirt moguls. They drew the biggest crowd reactions when they crashed.
|Jill Kintner of the United States leads in the Women’s BMX semifinals Friday. Ms. Kintner won the bronze medal.|
In its Olympic debut, bicycle motocross racing had something to prove to fans of the five rings, especially to those who wondered how BMX racing reached the Summer Games before far more popular action-sport siblings like skateboarding.
“This is our chance to show the world what BMX is about,” said U.S. racer Kyle Bennett, who competed Friday despite a dislocated shoulder. (He didn’t place in the top three, though two American men and one American woman won medals.)
Fans seemed appreciative, bopping to a mix of punk, rock and hip-hop blaring over the loudspeakers at the Laoshan BMX track.
“I used to do BMX when I was a kid so it’s cool to see this,” says Andreas Enderson, a design student from Los Angeles who was milling around between races, looking for a beer. “But you know that this is nothing compared to skateboarding. That should be here.”
Bicycle motocross racing isn’t the most popular action sport. It’s not even the biggest BMX discipline — that distinction goes to the BMX freestyle riders whose tricks send them soaring, spinning and flipping into the air.
Unlike youth sports such as skateboarding and freestyle, however, BMX racing is highly organized. The discipline boasts a network of groups and rules that have regulated the sport for decades. Standardization may not be sexy, but it has helped the little sport reach the Summer Olympics before any of its flashier competitors.
“We knew where we wanted to be and we knew the steps it would take,” says Bob Tedesco, a former drag racer who has been promoting BMX racing since the 1970s. “Freestyle and skateboarding was more like a cult. They never could get together.”
Mr. Tedesco is one of a handful of BMX enthusiasts around the world who have been on a decades-long quest to get to the Olympics. He says he first heard talk about BMX and the Games from George Esser, another fellow racer who founded one of the first BMX groups in 1974.
In his career in the U.S. Air Force, Mr. Esser had watched races around the world. It wasn’t long after his sons started BMX racing that he started “constantly” talking about the Olympics, recalls his son Greg.
“‘This is going to be in the Olympics one day,'” Greg remembers his father proclaiming. “As a 16-year-old kid you think you know it all, and I’m just like, ‘Yeah right, what are you smoking?'”
To make it into the Games, a new sport must meet a laundry list of requirements from the International Olympic Committee. Sports must be regulated by international federations that run world competitions and include member countries with their own national federations. By the early 1980s, BMX racing was well on its way to ticking off those requirements. By contrast, an international governing body for skateboarding wouldn’t come together for about another decade, a major disadvantage considering the glacial pace at which Olympic sports are added.
BMX racing started about 40 years ago in Southern California, when kids began mimicking motocross racers on their Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycles. Informal races quickly led to the creation of bicycle racing leagues around the country, which put on races for kids. In 1971, Bruce Brown’s motorcycle film “On Any Sunday” opened with a shot of kids BMX racing, kick-starting a wave of popularity for the nascent sport.
BMX racing also made the strategic decision to be acquired by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the powerful, long-standing international cycling governing body. By then racers from about 30 countries were participating in a world tour of BMX racing events.
“They, of course, dreamt about going to the Olympics, that’s for sure,” says Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the coordination commission for the Beijing Olympic Games and former president of UCI. “They realized also that they would never make it. It would be much better to be attached to an international federation recognized already by the IOC.”
Meanwhile, NBC, which broadcasts the Games in the U.S., and the IOC were hungering for youth-oriented sports to lure younger viewers to the Games. Their first attempt with snowboarding a resounding success, NBC and the IOC began asking international federations for options in the Summer Games. Research showed that younger people were interested in new disciplines, including BMX and skateboarding, says Mr. Verbruggen.
“The problem with skateboarding is that skateboarding is not organized,” he says.
BMX racing was a ready solution. “We were the only discipline that had our act together,” says Mr. Tedesco. “Not that our ratings were high, but we had all of the pieces that they needed.”
While both are considered action sports, BMX racing and skateboarding have very different personalities.
Bicycle motocross racing was “very organized,” says Dave Carnie, a former editor of a skateboarding magazine who is now on the board of directors for USA Skateboarding. “There’s a place you have to do it, there’s uniforms, there’s rules. Skateboarding had no rules. I could do it whenever I want, wherever I want and however I want.”
And the two aren’t created equal. Skateboarding superstar Tony Hawk has his own skate tour, videos and line of shoes, apparel and accessories, part of a plan to tap into the 11 million people in the U.S. who skateboard and the many more who dress like they do. Few people, even in the action-sports world, would recognize top BMX racers like Donny Robinson and Mike Day. BMX racing isn’t even in the X Games.
Still, entry into the Olympics has pumped new life into the sport. The United States Olympic Committee built a replica track of the Olympic course in Chula Vista, Calif. Nike created a BMX shoe and sponsors BMX racing athletes.
Skateboarders and the IOC continue to discuss how to get the sport into the Games. One sticking point — whether skateboarding will become part of an existing federation or govern itself.
Skateboarding is trying to avoid the fate of snowboarding in its early days in the Olympics. Snowboarders boycotted the 1998 Winter Games after the IOC gave the international ski federation governing power over international snowboarding.
“When you say ‘organization’ you bring on adults and typically bring on old adults,” says Gary Ream, president of the International Skateboard Federation. “A young, relevant sport managed by old adults is a tough sell. They usually do more harm than good.”