After years of waiting, BMX set to go big time
Mike Days mind wanders when he spends hours training on his BMX bike, daydreaming of how The Star-Spangled Banner will sound at a medal ceremony in Beijing. Jill Kintner blocks the pain that sometimes shoots through her shredded knee when she pedals, soothed by the lure of Olympic gold.For years, Day and Kintner and everyone else in their sport has been largely anonymous, invisible on grander athletic scales.Not anymore.BMX, the genre of cycling typically equated with 10-year-olds popping wheelies in a driveway or sprinting over a little jump built in the backyard, is all grown up. It will be an Olympic sport for the first time this summer.Its a move that will bring in new faces to invigorate the games in much the same way as adding snowboarding to the winter lineup and give legitimacy to the athletes who pedal those little bikes competitively all over the world.Its amazing to be able to compete for a living, but I dont think thats our main victory in this, said American star Donny Robinson, the worlds top-ranked BMX racer. Having BMX in the Olympics allows us to have our sport be considered a big-time deal. We arent punk kids that tear up shopping centers. This is our passion and our whole lives and now we have the chance to show what we can do on the biggest athletic stage ever.This isnt the freestyle, folks-riding-in-a-halfpipe type of BMX. Its the traditional version of the sport; eight riders in a heat, descending from a giant start ramp and then jostling through bumps, jumps, banked turns and long straightaways. Spills will happen, and injuries are common as riders combine speed, power and fearlessness.In other words, its just what young people want.Like most kids you start out riding your bike for fun, said Kintner, wholl race in Beijing despite a torn knee ligament. You know, it is something any kid can do and is accessible for so many people. As it gets more competitive it becomes addictive. We all love to do it. Brings the challenge within ourselves, something we have grown into. It is not just, Oh, were crazy. We started as kids, and it progressed to where it is now.Day, Robinson and former world champion Kyle Bennett will make up the U.S. mens roster; Kintner is the lone woman racing BMX for the Americans, who have been among the sports elite since its invention.Even though the U.S. has long been a BMX powerhouse, those four arent quite medal locks.Australia, Latvia and the Netherlands have strong mens programs; New Zealand, France and Great Britain boast serious medal hopefuls in the womens race.BMX, invented 40 years ago or so in California, has gone global.It isnt just important for me, said Shanaze Reade, the British womens BMX gold-medal hopeful. Its also important for the sport of BMX racing to get the recognition it deserves, to be an Olympic sport.So in August, it will be on display alongside the other cycling disciplines road, mountain and track.The U.S. won three medals at the Athens Games four years ago, all on the same day, all in road cycling. Tyler Hamilton won the mens time trial gold, his last significant victory before being linked to a doping scandal that prompted a two-year suspension and permanently sullied his reputation. Dede Barry won silver in the womens time trial, and Bobby Julich took bronze in the mens TT.Therell be plenty of new medal hopefuls this time around for the United States.Kristin Armstrong should be a contender on the womens side in the road race and the road time trial, where shes a former world champion. Sarah Hammer is a former world champion in the womens track individual pursuit, a diabolically difficult race that calls for women to pedal as hard as they can for about 3 1/2 minutes or so (however long it takes to complete 12 laps around a 250-meter velodrome) before falling off their bikes in complete agony. Longtime U.S. mens road star George Hincapie will ride in his fifth Olympics, seeking a road medal.But most interested American cycling eyes in Beijing will be on The Kid.Taylor Phinney, the savvy teen from Boulder, Colo., the son of Tour de France stage winner Davis Phinney and 1984 Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter-Phinney, will make his Olympic debut in the individual pursuit, where in less than a year hes vaulted from someone who had never tried the race into a legitimate gold-medal contender.I dont know how to tell you how much I want an Olympic medal, Taylor Phinney said.The Phinneys are an epic tale. Two world-class cycling parents, a son who thought his first Olympic chance would be in London four years from now but has surpassed all expectations, and the dramatic story of Davis health. Suffering from early onset Parkinsons disease, he underwent surgery earlier this year to embed a pacemaker-like device in his brain to combat the symptoms of the degenerative disease.He does us proud, Davis Phinney said. The (individual pursuit), I think its absolutely made for Taylor.The BMX crew feels the same way because, well, the Olympic track was absolutely made for them.An exact replica of the Beijing course sits outside the BMX training compound in Chula Vista, Calif., meaning the Americans have done thousands of laps to get perfect timing down for what awaits them in China.The thinking is clear: Theyll have a huge edge over the rest of the world, in that race for Olympic gold and all the endorsement deals and newfound fame that would surely come with a sparkling medal.The money is coming a lot more into the sport. But Ive never done it for the money, Bennett said. I started when I was 7 because I just loved to ride my bike around and catch air.Soon, he and the rest of the worlds best will be catching Beijing air.I truly believe this is why I was put on earth, Robinson said.
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