LONDON (Reuters) - BMX crashed the London Olympics party on Wednesday, arriving to a thumping rock and roll beat and the thud of falling bodies.
American rider Brooke Crain and Latvia’s Edzus Treimanis provided the main thrills in the first day of action, the capacity crowd gasping as they were flung over their handle bars crashing face first into the gravel track.
Welcome to BMX, where the Summer Olympics and X-Games intersect.
BMX is one of the few sports on the Summer Games program that might entice the younger generation to put down the video game control for a moment and tune into some Olympic action.
With the International Olympic Committee (IOC) desperate to keep the Games relevant and develop some “street cred”, the Winter Games have spearheaded the youth movement, steadily upping their hip quotient with an ever-expanding list of “extreme” disciplines, including snowboard-cross and ski cross.
The Summer Games, however, has not yet found a way to really tap into that same youthful vibe, delicately fine-tuning its program with the addition of BMX at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and little else since.
“It’s bringing in a younger crowd, even the older people watching the standard track and field events, the wrestling, everybody loves watching this,” said U.S. rider Nicolas Long, after his seventh place finish in seeding races.
”It’s exciting, there are crashes, there are people going down, they are going super fast out there.
“A lot of people will watch the Olympics just because it comes every four years but not so many people my age care so much about track and field or pentathlon, they’ll watch the X-Games,” Long added.
“So we bring a little different aspect to the Games.”
Certainly, BMX is capable of delivering plenty of thrills and spills.
Decked out gladiatorial style armour and motocross helmets, the action comes fast and furious as big men and women on little bikes hurl themselves down a ramp followed by 450 meters of pedal-churning fury as they fly over massive jumps and undulating series of dips known as whoop-de-doos, all the while delivering the occasional elbow to anyone who gets too close.
There are also plenty of crashes. Some of them of the frightening variety.
Arielle Martin lost her spot on the U.S. squad to Crain when she crashed spectacularly during a practice session in July, sustaining major internal injuries including a lacerated liver, broken ribs and punctured lung.
It is all part of the show that attracted a capacity crowd to the BMX Olympic venue.
“It’s definitely our obligation to promote the sport,” said Long. “Us three riders out of the U.S., it’s our job, our duty to not only represent our country but our sport to kids around the world, even adults.”
Like triathlon, BMX is another sport invented in the United States that Americans have yet to claim a gold medal.
In Beijing, U.S. riders claimed half of the six medals on offer but could not reached the top step of the podium despite investing considerable.
For the Beijing Games, the U.S. built an exact replica of the Olympic layout at the United States Olympic Committee’s training facility in Chula Vista, California and did so again for London using 3D mapping scanners strapped to American bikes during a test event to get the blueprint for an identical practice track.
“We race BMX and BMX is built out of dirt, it’s never going to be an exact replica,” cautioned Alise Post, who posted the top American result in the women’s seeding races, placing eighth.
”I think the big thing is it is dirt and no jump is built the exact same no matter where you go even if it’s the same person building it.
“It’s a different challenge her at the Olympics dealing with the vibe and keeping calm.”
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