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'12 Things ... you might not know about BMX

By Paul D. Bowker | June 16, 2012, 2 p.m. (ET)

Donny Robinson
Donny Robinson, seen here competing in the 2008 Beijing Games, will compete in the 2012 London Games this summer.


When BMX racing made its debut at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the U.S. riders showed their dominance by winning half of the six medals. Mike Day earned a silver medal and Donny Robinson earned a bronze in the men’s competition, and Jill Kintner took the bronze in the women’s division. Day missed a gold medal by less than six-tenths of a second, and he could be a medal contender again in London. One of the top U.S. contenders is Connor Fields, a 19-year-old from Las Vegas, who won gold at the 2011 Pan American Games and 2011 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in Chula Vista, Calif.


Don’t blink because the BMX races in London will be over quickly. Anne-Caroline Chausson of France won the women’s championship race at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in 35.976 seconds. Maris Strombergs of Latvia won the longer men’s race in 36.190 seconds.


BMX, or Bicycle Motocross, began to take off during the 1960s in California at about the same time that motorized motocross became popular. The sport grew through the 1970s and into the 1980s, and has made a comeback in recent years as it turned into a family sport. Riders as young as 5 years old take to BMX courses, as well as older brothers and sisters, and moms and dads. There are nearly 400 American Bicycle Association-sanctioned BMX tracks in the United States, many of them offering races and events every weekend during warm-weather months.


BMX bikes have just one gear and just one brake. So there’s no switching gears down a hill or up a hill, and probably little time to do that anyway. The bikes are uniquely designed because they must be strong enough to handle the landings following a jump and light enough to help a rider build up speed. A basic BMX bike can be purchased for as little as $100, but top racing bikes will go for $650 and more.


Unlike road-racing bikes, which generally have wheel diameters of 26 or 27 inches, the BMX bikes have smaller 20-inch tires. The BMX bikes are smaller than road bikes — or the bike you might have hanging inside your garage — and the smaller wheel size puts riders closer to the dirt.


BMX racers must wear helmets, long-sleeved shirts, long-sleeved pants and gloves. Many riders also use elbow pads to protect them in a fall or a crash (which is common).


Arielle Martin, who was the first BMX female nominee to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, became the third woman to successfully negotiate a back flip on a BMX bike when she did it in October 2007. Not bad for a Martha Stewart wannabe who snowboards during the winter months. She claims to be an undercover Martha Stewart because she enjoys cooking and decorating her house. Martin, who’ll turn 27 years old three days after the Opening Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games, is married to the crew chief of an Army Black Hawk in Fort Lewis, Wash. She qualified for the 2012 Olympic nomination by achieving a No. 1 ranking in the USA Cycling BMX Power Rankings.


Alise Post, a candidate for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, was denied a spot on the 2008 Olympic team because, at age 17, she was too young. While she would not have been too young to compete in many other Olympic sports, the minimum age for an Olympic BMX racer in 2008 was 19. In 2007, she was the UCI BMX world champion in the cruiser class, or age 15-16 girls. She won the national championship for elite women in 2010, and the junior elite national title in 2009 and 2008.


The construction of BMX Park in London began with 14,000 cubit meters of soil. The soil was actually excavated elsewhere on the Olympic Park site, cleaned and then reused to create a course with hills of up to four meters high. After that, the course was formed over the soil. The final version includes a starting ramp that is eight meters high, and plenty of jumps, bumps and tight corners to make it a challenging ride that will be exciting for spectators. The men’s course covers 470 meters, while the women’s course is 430 meters. The entire venue measures 160 meters by 90 meters, which is larger than a soccer field.


In a move to create a training facility that is as close to London’s BMX Park as possible, a replica Olympic BMX track was created at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista so that the American riders would feel like they’re in London before they actually get there. The construction of the course, beginning with 20,000 yards of dirt, was done so that the conditions of the course, right down to the bumps, would be the same as London. The first official event at the new track will be the U.S. Olympic Trials for BMX June 14-16. USA Cycling built a replica of the Olympic track used in Beijing four years in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games and the Beijing look-alike still exists at the OTC in Chula Vista. The cost of the 2012 version: $650,000, roughly $250,000 more than the Beijing model.


There will be two medal events at the London 2012 Olympic Games, one for men and one for women. The competition begins Aug. 8. Of the 48 competitors at the Games, 32 will be men. The United States qualified the maximum number of slots for London, three men and two women. Among the nominees for the U.S. team are David Herman and Arielle Martin, who were No. 1 in the USA Cycling BMX Power Rankings and therefore did not have to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials for BMX in June in Chula Vista.


Seedings in both the men’s and women’s competitions will be determined through time trials. Each rider will run the track once. The seedings ensure that the fastest riders in the time trials wouldn’t meet until the final race. In the men’s competition, a series of quarterfinals are held over five runs of the course, with points awarded for places in each run. The top riders advance to the semifinals. Because there are just 16 women in the Olympic Games, there are no quarterfinals. The semifinals consist of three runs, leading up the final championship run.

Important dates in BMX racing:

June 16: U.S. Olympic Trials for BMX, Chula Vista

June 18: BMX nominations for U.S. Olympic Team are announced

Aug. 8-10: Men’s competition, London 2012 Olympic Games

Aug. 8 and 10: Women‘s competition, London 2012 Olympic Games

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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Jill Kintner

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David Herman