Bicycle Motocross - or BMX - is making its debut as a full medal sport
at the Beijing Summer Olympics. The United States is sending four
elite BMX cyclists to compete in the inaugural men's and women's
individual racing events. As VOA's Teresa Sullivan reports, BMX has
come a long way over the last 30 years - from kids doing tricks on
bikes, to earning a place on world sports' most prestigious stage.
The cycling sport of BMX has been called "edgy," "explosive" and "extreme" - and with good reason.
bicycle motocross race consists of two or three rounds with eight
racers per "moto" or heat. The fastest four cyclists advance to the
next round. Riding only several centimeters apart, the racers explode
off the starting line and pedal furiously down a steep ramp to gain
enough energy to blast over a dirt course of treacherous jumps and
obstacles. There are no points for style or artistic expression. Only
speed wins. Each moto is only about 40 seconds. U.S. Olympic BMX
racer Mike Day says the race is usually won in the first 10 rotations
of the pedals.
Elite BMXers can reach speeds of more than 60 kilometers per hour and jump nearly 2.5 meters - and they enjoy it.
Three-time men's BMX world champion Kyle Bennett is excited about going to Beijing as a member of the U.S. Olympic team.
did not really think it would happen," said Kyle Bennett. "It was
something I had dreamed about since I was little. Being in the
Olympics is amazing. It is the highest our sport can go. We are
seeing a lot of changes. As far as where it will go as a sport, I see
nothing but positive things coming out."
Day and Bennett's BMX
Olympic teammates are Donny Robinson and Jill Kintner. All four
athletes are considered medal contenders.
Robinson says he
hopes, that as an Olympic sport, BMX will show others that its
competitors are great people as well as great athletes.
racing and BMX riders are wholesome characters," said Donny Robinson.
"We know exactly what it takes to make our dreams come true. And, I
think we are a good breed definitely for the Olympics. BMX is our
passion. Now that we have an opportunity to obviously do what we love
on such a huge world stage and have that chance of doing something
great is an amazing opportunity, and we are definitely going to make
the most of it."
BMX originated in the United States in the
late 1960's and early 1970's. Youngsters in California used their
push-pedal bicycles to copy the tricks performed by older motorcycle
racers. As its popularity spread, this type of riding became known as
"bicycle motocross" - or BMX.
It was eventually recognized as
a sport of its own, with official BMX competitions, rules, specialized
bikes, safety equipment and culture. It was further legitimized in
1981 with the founding of the International BMX Federation. In 2003,
the International Olympic Committee made BMX a full medal Olympic sport
for Beijing in 2008.
There will be 48 BMX racers competing in Beijing - 32 men and 16 women from at least 17 countries.
racing is not the first American-made sport to be elevated from the
fringe status of "extreme" to the pinnacle of Olympic respectability.
Snowboarding made the transition (with half-pipe and slalom events) at
the 1998 Nagano Winter Games in Japan. Then in 2006, snowboard cross
was added to the Turin Olympics in Italy.
U.S. team member Jill Kintner believes the Olympic debut of BMX is changing the culture of cycling at home and abroad.
you do not notice it as much, but when you go overseas it is pretty
stiff now, and everyone is cruising around with their national
governing bodies," said Jill Kintner. "It was never a sport like that
from when I remember. People were riding for fun, and whatever, and it
has gone to the next level now."
The only permanent
super-cross BMX structure in the United States is the new BMX facility
at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California (near the
city of San Diego). It includes a near-exact replica of the Olympic
super-cross course in Beijing. Kintner describes the atmosphere at the
"We are all pushing each other to get better, and we
understand that," said Kintner. "We are a team, but we are a team to
get to the Olympics, you know. It is not like we are going to work
against each other. But it is definitely a new experience. This whole
Olympic thing has brought people together that would not normally live
together in any normal situations."
USA Cycling chief Steve
Johnson says the new BMX training facility highlights the importance of
the close partnership between the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA
Cycling in the continued development of international BMX racing.