Bicycle motorcross (BMX) makes its Olympic debut next month in Beijing, bringing the high-jumping, hard-crashing thrills of the extreme sport into the medal quest and hoping to lure its fans as well.
“It’s a different type of athlete for the Olympics,” said three-time world champion Kyle Bennett. “It’s exciting. Guys jumping 40 feet in the air. Guys banging into each other. You are going to see crashes. It will be different.”
Rivals race each other over a curvy, hilly course with jostling for position common and plenty of speed, aerobatics and bumping to excite spectators.
“It’s similar to motocross or snowcross except the legs are the engine,” Bennett said. “The adrenaline of going down and the rush of crashing and still not getting hurt, it’s kind of cool.”
Thrill seekers such as Jill Kintner, Bennett’s US teammate, love the sport.
“It’s intense. It’s full contact for almost 40 seconds. You can go into a turn and never know what’s going to hit you,” Kintner said. “The way we live our lives is totally diffferent. The pressure is amped up.
“In extreme sports, it takes a certain type of person to want to do that and I think we’re finding more of them thanks to the Olympic medal being out there.
“It’s cool how it started in a garage, kids trying to emulate motorcross, people putting together their own parts, wanting to race on dirt hills. It’s great how it has grown. It will be interesting to see where it is in 10 years.”
Americans built an exact replica of the Olympic course at a training center near San Diego, where Mike Day won the US trials to book a spot in Beijing.
“Our speeds are a bit ridiculous and kind of scary actually,” said Day, the 2005 world runner-up who was third in 2006. “A million hours are spent trying to improve our first 10 pedals. It’s not all fun and games.
“I don’t think this has sunk in what’s happening to us, where BMX has gone.”
The outsiders have gone mainstream.
“BMXers are a rare breed. A lot of people associated BMX with wild childs and kids who go their own way. BMX athletes are an anomaly in this scene,” said 2006 World Cup champion Donny Robinson, who won a tuneup last year at Beijing.
“We have a responsibility to perform well and be role models. This is our chance to bring BMX to the world.
Robinson, fourth at May’s world championship in China, recalls the first day of working on the Olympic replica course.
“It was deifnitely a shocker. We had hills as high as the building. We had a lot of anxiety,” he said. “Now it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal for us. We’re not worried so much about going from the start to 40mph in 1.5 seconds.”
Starts can be exciting but dangerous as well.
“Coming out of the gate is the most dangerous part. You want to come out hard. If that means bumping an elbow or moving a rider high so he won’t come around you, that’s what you have to do,” Robinson said.
“I don’t recall any crashes at the start areas. We want to live to the next race. We don’t just want to put ourselves in danger. There are risks.”
The preparation being made by the US team, as this YouTube video from Wavy.com clearly demonstrates, is nothing but thorough so hopefully they will bring home a sack full of medals.
The US men’s team will be represented by Donny Robinson, Mike Day and Kyle Bennett; and Jill Kintner will be the US women’s team sole representative. Good luck guys.