The BMX is new to the Summer Olympics, only experiencing its second anniversary. The competition is over 3 days with 48 athletes and 2 gold medals available, one for the men and one for the woman.
Inspired by motocross, BMX bikes only have one gear and one brake. The frame will generally be made of light aluminium with 20inch wheels and wide handlebars that help with balance. Riders will wear full face helmets and protective clothing as crashes are inevitable.
The rules are simple and the competition is fierce.
The riders race around a dirt track filled with jumps, berms, and bumps, the men over 470m and the women over 430m. 32 riders take part in the men’s competition and 16 in the women’s .Eight riders in each heat start together on an eight metre ramp that gives them a very fast start at a speed they will maintain throughout their lap. Laps are so quick they generally only last for about 40 seconds.
To make the competition really exciting the BMX organisers do not want all the top riders to meet in the first rounds, so each competitor will race over the course once to determine their seeding and heats will be organised accordingly. In the Seeding round each rider goes around the track once to determine their overall time. The fastest riders get the best seeding.
As there are only 16 women in the competition they automatically go through to the semi-finals, but the men will first have a quarter final to bring the 32 riders down to 16. There are four quarter finals with eight riders per race. Riders score points in each race and the winner is the rider with the most points. After three races the two riders with the most points in each quarter final go through to the semis. The six riders left in each quarter final have 2 more races and the highest scoring 2 riders from each quarter final will join the others in the semi-finals.
There are three races for 16 riders in the semi-finals; the top four riders in each semi go through to the final.
The final is just one race for the eight finalists. The first to cross the finish line is the winner and will be given the gold medal.
A good technique, not only in bike handling but fitness and courage make a champion. The tracks can be difficult and knowing when to brake, turn or jump is essential.
The jargon is like another language and a BMX dictionary may be handy when watching the event for the first time. A few words you will hear quite often during a championship are:
Berm– A steep banked corner, also used in Mountain Biking.
Drop Off– a steep drop on the track.
Holeshot– taking the lead position out of the gate.
Rollers– A series of bumps, 3,4,6 or 8 in a sequence.
Speed Jump– a little jump on the track that will be faster to ride over then try and jump over.
Sweeper– a flat curve or turn on the track.
Bunny Hop– Jumping with both wheels off the ground.
Wheelie– Lifting the front wheel off the ground, or riding on the rear wheel only.
Manual– When you ride on the rear wheel without pedalling, typically over the top section of jumps.
As the track is fast, the ride can be vicious and many BMX riders have experienced many broken bones and other injuries throughout their careers. The riders are generally young and can mend much faster than many athletes, competing only weeks after major surgeries. With so many riders coming back from injury you would think that they are more cautious when racing again, but this is definitely not the case and the speed and stunts may have you holding your breath for the 40 second laps.
If you are new to BMX you may find yourself hooked quite quickly. It’s fast, daring and exciting. If you are a parent of young children don’t be surprised if they soon ask you for a BMX bike after watching the event. The good news is the London track will be open to the public after the event so they can go ride like the Olympians, hopefully without the trip to A&E afterwards.