When BMX arrives in Beijing for its Olympic debut, BMX's biggest names won't be there. They'll be watching on TV, if they're even watching at all.
That's because the biggest names in BMX aren't racers. The big names come from freestyle ranksriders of vert ramps, dirt jumps, park courses and streets everywhere. Of course, these big names would love to be in the Olympics as well. But for now, the privilege belongs to the comparatively low-profile BMX racers32 men and 16 women, including four Americans. They are the latest action-sports athletes to join in the Olympic Games.
Freestyle riders, for their part, remain optimistic about someday being included in the Olympics, but there are some fundamental sticking points. "Not conforming to rules," says legend Mat Hoffman by way of example. And he should know. In addition to writing the BMX rule book on not conforming to rules, he's been in discussions with various governing bodies, including the IOC itself, for nine years as the head of the International BMX Freestyle Federation.
With all this in mind, EXPN.com checked in with four freestyle ridersAmericans Hoffman, Chad Kagy, Ryan Nyquist and Brit Simon Tabronfor their take from the sidelines of BMX's Olympic debut.
"BMX in the Olympics is a good thing. As far as what discipline's in there, racing is the most organized and definitive. There's a finish line and everyone can tell who wins and who loses. It makes the most sense for a lot of reasons. Freestyle isn't like that, and the world doesn't understand us [freestyle riders] anyway. So having the racing at the Olympics as a springboard to the general public understanding more is a plus.
On the flip side, racing isn't the most exciting thing, and I don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot by having racing there [in the Olympics]. Then people might start thinking, 'Well, that wasn't so cool. Why do we want another BMX sport?'
I'm not even remotely [interested] in racing for an Olympic gold. I ran through my course of racing a long time agoI did it for eight yearsand when I got to the end, I knew it wasn't my thing anymore. But they're great, they're top athletes. I'd actually call them higher-tuned athletes than guys like myself. I'm just more of a doctor's nightmare.
It's kind of bummer we're not included [as freestylers]. We did a Dew Tour vert ramp event in China and the crowd just loved it. The Chinese people loved us. But 2012 works for me. London. I'm hoping to still be riding."
"It's a good thing. The guys who are doing freestyle and dirt jumping all started out racing, they all had their roots in racing. And in the future, [the Olympics] is looking to expand into freestyle. Hopefully this is a foot in the door and it'll grow into of the main staples of the Olympics one day.
I don't know any of the racers. I know of some of them. Our sports are pretty separated as far as events. I haven't really followed it, so I don't know who's a frontrunner or anything. I'm pretty uneducated about it. I probably won't follow it just because I never get a chance to watch TV. With travel during the summer, it's hard for me to catch anything on TV, even my own stuff. Maybe I'll TiVo it.
It would be impossible [to try to compete in racing]. I might as well do speed skating. It's just not something you could consider crossing over into. It'd be unrealistic."
"BMX racing and BMX freestyle basically began as the same thing. But there was a fork in the road in the 90s and we went our separate ways. We don't share ideologies anymore. And from the freestyle standpoint, it seems like a perfect fit that racing should find its way into the Olympics. It seems like just with the structure of racing itself, they'd have to change little or nothing for it to become an Olympic sport. As for freestyle, it's been an ongoing discussion and really it comes down to this: It's very difficult to translate what we do into an Olympic sport.
The bottom line of skateboarding or surfing or BMX freestyle is that really there are no rules, and usually that's the general appeal to folks from the beginning. And the puzzle is how do we translate our sport into an Olympic one without betraying the underlying integrity of our sport? It's an ongoing discussion within freestyle, and we're also in discussion with the IOC, but it's been long and drawn out. They assume they can take in a new sport and do with it what they may. But we've had certain objections to that. We're concerned that we retain control of the structure. With us, we want to stay the way we are.
I think it would be wonderful. And with racing becoming an Olympic sport, I think that will reflect well on us as freestylers because now the BMX word is involved in Olympics. Already it's legitimized us even though we have nothing to do with the Olympics.
I started racing when I was nine years old. And I raced for about a year, until they built a ramp near my home. Then I really never looked back. Am I interested in the outcome? An old friend from England, Dale Holmes, I think will qualify for the British, so I'll be interested to see how he does 'cause he's my old friend."
"They want our sport in the 2012 Olympics and I've been put in the seat to help make it happen. What sparked their interest in BMX in the first place was an act we did for the Closing Ceremonies of the '96 Olympics in Atlanta. We called it 'Sport As Art' and I invited a bunch of skater and rider friends. We built this huge halfpipe, performed the show, and it was a huge hit.
Some folks up high liked it too. And so we started talking about it. They told me the things that our sport would need to adhere to, in order to be considered, much of which don't fit our sport, which is freestyle, not conforming to rules. So it wasn't in our best interestwith no disrespect to the Olympicsbut it would be great if we could figure out a way to make it work. And that's been our stance and that's why it's taken so long. It could happen quick, or it couldn't, but we'll continue to stay true to who we are.
I've never gotten into BMX racing. It's seems weird because I'm a BMXer and I've dedicated my whole life to it. So I'll follow itand it might be a good example of opportunities that we'll have going forwardand of course I have some friends who are radical at racing, so I'll follow it. I'm psyched for them.
I've been real close with the Olympics people, but my main focus is to keep that spirit of independence that would also foster their interest. We don't want to negate the reasons that they'd like our sport in the Olympics by changing what makes it already interesting to the world. I mean, the Olympics, it would be great, and I see all the positives, but that's why we haven't jumped on it like BMX racing has."