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2008, Opinion: The Olympics and BMX

Update October 2008.

Dear friends in BMX,
With this article I want to inform you in short about my personal situation concerning my “meningitis” and I want to give you my opinion on the first ever BMX Olympics in China.

Recovering from Meningitus! I am now about 9 weeks back home from hospital. Recovery goes slowly. Just October 1st I did start a very easy training programme (intensity about 15 / 20% of my normal training programme) and that’s even hard for me to do. It will take at least 1 probably 2 more months for me to be able to start working again. But again, my health is getting better step by step.

The Olympics and BMX. It is some two month ago now since the Olympic Games 2008 came to an end. On September 12th I did an evaluation in Dutch about the BMX sport and competition in the Olympic Games. I also want to do the same now in English.

First of all, for me personally a dream came true. As a BMX fanatic, I have been awake 3 nights to watch BMX within the Olympics live. It was GREAT, a great track, plenty of spectators following the racing, fantastic atmosphere, very exiting and spectacular racing all of which was very well recorded by the TV makers. Well done to all, besides this being the most important race in the world, it has been the best marketing and promotion of our sport ever! Millions and millions of people world wide have been watching this.

It’s very special to call BMX an “Olympic sport” now. It was on September 10th 1984 that I, as General Secretary of the I.BMX.F. (International BMX Federation, integrated into the UCI now), did send a request to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne – Switzerland, to recognize and accept BMX as a “Olympic sport” within the I.O.C. Looking back this was a kind of premature and a very idealistic request. The I.BMX.F at that moment only existed about 1 ½ year, had only about 25 countries as their members and was not active on all 5 continents yet. In short, by far we did not meet the criteria to apply for Olympic recognition.

For us Europeans it was great to see Anne Caroline Chausson of France and Maris Strombergs of Latvia bring back the first ever Olympic Championship titles in Elite men and Elite women class. In my opinion, they both were by far the best athletes in their classes at these 2008 Olympics. My personal prediction was that in Elite men, a Latvian rider would become Olympic Champ and ....... it happened. I know how serious they are about sport in general and in BMX specially.

Journalism in Europe and BMX. In general sense I can say that in mainstream newspapers, magazine and even on TV not very much attention was given to the new sport in the Olympics, BMX. During the games Dutch reporters talked about BMX as an adult sport and that was a first. Before, always they talked about the big guys on the small children’s bike. Even after 30 years of existence of our sport in Holland and Europe, during the event on TV, BMX people had to explain again what BMX was all about. That I found frustrating after 30 years. But in general, now BMX was projected as an adult sport and that is good.

A few newspaper headlines during and after the games.
I only have some reaction from Nation wide Dutch newspapers, so a selective view. Here some lines:

“BMX more then a big guy on a small bike” NRC Handelsblad:
“BMX’ers, descendants from punk- and skateboard culture”:
“BMX makes a big noise during Olympic début, the new kids on the block” ED – Eindhoven:
“In BMX, nobody uses their brakes” also ED – Eindhoven:
“I wanted to show what BMX was all about” number 6 finisher Rob v.d. Wildenberg talking:
“BMX swings at the Olympics” De Telegraaf, largest National newspaper in Holland.
All articles had very positive comments on this new sport BMX in the Olympics.

TV reports in Holland and at European level. On Dutch national TV (N.O.S.), the report on BMX was just fine. One of Holland’s top BMX’ers, Sander Bisseling, a member of the Dutch National BMX selection, was the specialist and explained what BMX was all about. He did a great job. My remark however is that again, although BMX exists 30 years in Europe, all details about the sport had to be explained again. Hopefully now everybody knows.

Dutch national TV sports chanel N.O.S. showed the whole event from begin till end and that was very positive too. Internationally European station EUROSPORT (the ESPN of Europe) did however only broadcast the time-trials and some moto’s, that was very disappointing.

Promotion and marketing of our sport BMX has never had a larger impulse as during these 2008 Olympic Games. I am very curious how the response will be at National level in countries all over the world.
Hopefully and very important is the development of not only the top, Elite men and women, but also the Junior and “children’s” classes. The “family sport” image specially in the under 14 age classes is an important one if we want to keep BMX alive. Youth has the future, they say!

First ever Youth Olympic Games in 2010. I did write about the Youth Olympic Games 2010 earlier this year on my website BMX is a part of that too, isn’t that fantastic!  Youngsters in the age of 14 through 18 will have the possibility to participate. A lot of work to do the upcoming 2 years to train and select riders for a National team to compete in the Youth Olympic Games. New challenges which is great for BMX.

How will the “outside BMX world react”. This is what I am most curious about: how will the, what I call “outside BMX world” react and respond on the past Olympic Games? With “outside BMX world” I mean people not involved in BMX at this moment. With the exposure during the Olympics, we reached millions of them. What I see here in Holland and countries surrounding us is that it is very quit in BMX land at the moment.
I do see maybe even too much BMX free-style on European TV, but almost NO shows on BMX in the Olympics. O.k. the inside BMX world is enthusiastic etc.etc. but ...... we need that outside BMX world very hard to grow, to get  them as spectators and so on.

How does this develop in your countries? Can you see a substantial increase of licence-holders??? Is it easy now to have contracts made up with essential sponsors??? Are National BMX Organisations and the UCI taken advantage of the great marketing and promotion of BMX after the Olympic Games. NOW is the time to score.

FUTURE POLICY and PROBLEMS TO SOLVE. In my opinion in BMX at this moment, we do have 2 big problems. 1st. We have to consider a different running of races/events. BMX now has 2 groups, anyway if you take the Olympics as guideline. We do have one group being the Olympic classes, Elite men and women and the Youth Olympic classes 14 through 18 year old riders, men and women. And the other group of riders, our base for the future, the 5 through 13 year old riders.

If journalists will be present at events were all classes are racing, even maybe on separate days, they will see 5 year olds and Elite riders competing. The  imago of a “children’s sport” will stay in the minds and in their articles in newspapers and on TV. That is one problem.

2nd. Another problem is that if we want to make BMX a much more “spectator sport”, we must not run races from 9 in the morning till 6 in the afternoon. NO outside BMX spectator will be interested in such an event. Also having tracks were Elite riders and 5 year old riders have to race on will become a problem more and more. Olympic class riders as well as Youth Olympic class riders should race at tracks according to Olympic standards. The “children’s classes from 13 and under should race at track suitable for them.

Easy solution and stated many times before (however not very easy to realize):
Events with only Elite men and women, 20 and 24” bikes, as well as the 14 through 18 year old classes, 20 and 24” bikes.

Just like any other top sport event, final racing starts at 13.00 hours and ends at about 16.00 hours.
During this period run semi-finals and finals. Qualifications the day before.
Main focus on the Sunday event, also to attract outside BMX spectators, press and TV.
BMX tracks adjusted to the skills of these riders (Olympic standard). 

Separate events with only youth classes from 5 till 13 year old. Main focus on “family sport” and 14 through 18 year old classes for riders not motivated to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games (just want to have fun). BMX tracks adjusted to the skills of these riders, so mainly somewhat easier tracks and therefore probably much more attractive to these riders.

This suggestion is nothing really new. Almost in any other sport, this kind of set up is active. Look at moto-cross, cycling, even soccer.

Remarks concerning the BMX Olympics 2008. Besides the very positive things that I said about the new Olympic sport of BMX, looking at the actual event on TV, I also have some remarks to make.

In general I want to say that I personally have big problems with the fact that Big TV stations in the USA can tell the UCI, if you want us to broadcast your event during the Olympics, you must make the track more spectacular. That is why we have this huge starting hill now-a-days. But does it make BMX more spectacular? I am not sure.
If these type of starting hills will be the future, then you will understand that special tracks for the “children’s” classes are needed. Not so good idea to have 5 year old kids, just starting, leave from such a hill.
If we want to have spectacular TV, better look at how an event has to be broadcasted. Camera’s lower to the ground, a camera like in speed skating, racing alone with the riders over a rail on the outside of the track.. A combination of what we saw on TV at the Olympics with the above would be very good. I must say that the broadcasting and way of presenting BMX at the Olympics was one of the best I saw in my live (and I have seen a lit in 34 years of BMX). This was good, but it can be better.

At the Olympics I found the time-trials a total waist of time. The only purpose it served was, that now reporters had the time to tell something about the riders (background info) competing in each one rider lap. These trial took a lot of time only to determine one’s starting position in the moto’s to follow. Riders had to do a second run and most of them did not even complete the lap at full speed. These second runs were a joke. Also “outside BMX” people did not fully understand what these trials were about.

My suggestion: UCI, the time used for these trials, use that next time for real racing as follows. Instead of  allowing 32 Elite Men riders to compete, go to 48, even better go to 64, but at least 48 riders. With this number of riders quarter finals have to be run. More riders from other/different countries have a change then to compete in the Olympics. The time needed for running the races can be won by leaving out the no sense time-trials.

By running 3 moto’s of which the best four qualify for the quarter finals, it makes the way of racing also more understandable for outside BMX people. The first moto, starting positions by ad random selection by computer. The result of the first moto, will be the order of picking a line in moto 2 at the gate, same concerning moto 3. The same principal in Elite Women class, instead of 16 riders go to 24 riders or even better would be 32, but at least 24. Same procedure as above.

I know, the main problem concerning expanding the numbers of participants is the fact that the UCI has to decide to eliminate at least 24 riders in any other cycling discipline, because UCI can not exceed there fixed maximum number of participants in all cycling disciplines at the Olympics. But something to think about.

Next suggestion is, and  I proposed this several times before since 1995, to qualify AFTER the 3 moto’s; NOT the top 4 finishers per ¼ (quarter) and/or per ½ (semi) final, but ......................... number 1 and 2 finishers qualify directly to the next round, and from the rest the fastest times will qualify to go to the next round. Then TRANSPONDERS make sense and are used for what they are built for. It makes racing more exiting, no one rider can take it easy when he is in 4th position if you know what I mean. Riders get more responsibility in the sense of running each other of the track. Everybody must try to stay on their bikes to make the best time possible. One can consider to add a “losers round” for those who crashed during a race, give them one more change to qualify (as in athletics at the Olympics, nothing new).

The transponder system, the computer programme, everything is used with a better purpose also now. One can show the results of the race including the lap time on a large screen on site and this lap time NOW makes sense. It did not make any sense during the past Olympics.  

Also the above is nothing new. At the Olympics at running events this principal is used also. Really the fastest riders will get through to the main event now.

During my period as UCI Project-manager World-Cup events, I tried to realize this system and principal also. Pity I did not succeed to get it realized back then (money). The World Cup in Valkenswaard – Holland in 1996 came closest of how I would have liked to see this done. Again, look at speed skating in the wintertime in Holland, also for outside skate (read also: BMX) people, what does make it that exiting and interesting to watch that kind of racing? Two skaters on the ice riding rounds? Without TIME running at the same time, visual, it would NOT be very interesting for spectators. Besides that, its the fairest way to select to top 8 riders in BMX.

Well this is about it on racing technical items. One more thing that organisations world wide could think about is to have special training for top Elite and Junior (Youth) riders in the field of representation. When being interviewed, how to act, what to say, don’t keep your classes on and so on. I have seen several interview with riders and they were not very professional. Only USA riders must have a compliment, they did well. This is also part of our image, so lets work on that too.

Last but not least.
I also want to talk about a concept I have mentioned many times before and about which you can read on my website . Recently I have been watching the MOTO-CROSS of NATIONS that took place in England this year. Fantastic racing, an enormous crowd, great atmosphere. To add (besides World Cups and/or Supercross events) to our Continental, World and Olympic Champion Ships, wouldn’t be nice to have a Championship of National Teams in the near future? Beside individual Championships a team championship has a special image about it. It also gives National and international TV stations an extra motivation to broadcast such an event.
Well, think about setting up a BMX TROPHY of NATIONS. Without going into too much details, wouldn’t it be nice to compete with a National Team with riders in Elite Men and Women class as well as riders from the Youth Olympic classes being Junior Men and Women as well as 14 and 15 year old riders, 6 riders per National team. Details to be worked on, but in my opinion a very, very interesting type of racing to work on seriously. To run an event like this in 2009 can be possible. ACTION.

Well my dear friends, this is it. Enough in this letter to think about and hopefully act upon. I hope somebody in our BMX world will consider bringing this all up and start a discussion. Want to brainstorm about certain topic? I am ready to discuss with you. Lets keep developing our fantastic sport!

Aalst – Holland - Europe