With only a few months to go until BMX’s Olympic debut, there’s a lot at stake at this weekend’s second annual USA Cycling BMX National Championships in DeSoto, Texas.
DeSoto’s Metroplex BMX, the world’s first covered BMX track, will host the event, which will award national titles in 52 classifications, from the under-12 cruiser class up to masters classes.
“It would mean a lot to be able to represent my country at the most prestigious event in the world,” said Kyle Bennett (Free Agent), the top ranked continental racer who holds a 42-point
lead ahead of number two, Donny Robinson (Hyper). “There’s no higher event than the Olympics; if I do make the team, I won’t settle for nothing less than a gold medal.”
Individual UCI rankings put Bennett, Robinson, Mike Day (GT) and Steven Cisar (Redman) in second, third, sixth and ninth place respectively.
For the women, Jill Kintner (GT) currently holds down third and Arielle Martin (Formula) is tied for eighth place with Australia’s Melissa Manskowski.
Kintner returned to BMX racing fulltime after successfully defending her World Champion 4X title in September of 2007 and she has been tallying up points ever since. Martin suffered a torn ACL during 2007, which cost her valuable points. Now with both of them gunning for the Olympic team, Kintner and Martin have gone head-to-head in race after race, trading victories and rapidly climbing in rank.
“Arielle and I are separated by only one point in the Olympic points chase, so I am hoping to put a little more of a gap on her,” Kintner said. “I’d like to think she is good from hanging out with me all the time, but it’s ’cause she works hard and is dedicated.”
Whoever holds the highest individual UCI ranking after the World Championships in Taiyuan, China, at the end of May, will earn USA Cycling’s sole automatic nomination for each men and women. A maximum of three Olympic spots for the men are available to the top five nations, according to UCI rankings following the World Championships.
Two spots for the women are available to the top four nations following the World Championships. The US expects to clinch all five spots and send five potential medal winners to
the Games. Provided that happens, the second spot for the men will be determined at a one-day Olympic trial event to be held at USA Cycling’s Olympic training facility in Chula Vista, Calif. on June 14. Crafted from the same blueprints, the Chula Vista track is an exact replica of the Olympic track in Beijing.
Selection for the last spot for both the men and the women will become the responsibility of USA Cycling Coaches, who will choose the final Olympians before all nominations are due to the US Olympic Committee on July 1, 2008.
The decision to choose the Olympic BMX racers this way is one that has come under some scrutiny and criticism. Rumblings include the potential for USA Cycling alliances and/or athletes’ sponsors to influence the coaches’ choice and while the process may be suspect to some, details have been laid out in a “USAC Athlete Selection Procedures” document for the 2008 Olympic Games under the “Team Selection” in the BMX section on USA Cycling’s website since January 10, 2007.
“I think more importantly they want to pick the right person at the right time and not be influenced by results that happened 12 months ago,” said Mike King, BMX program director for USA Cycling. “One of our top riders could get hurt tomorrow and be out for the next few weeks. What we tried to do is to award consistency and pick someone who’s worthy based on past performances, they must all show Olympic caliber performance.”
Because of a broad age range, which swings from five-year-olds on up to 60+, the national championship track needs to accommodate a vast number of skills and experience. The $2 million facility hosts races year-round and while the venue meets the demands of a national championship track, few comparisons can be made between the Metroplex track and the Olympic track.
“It will differ a lot,” said Gary Elmore, event director and facility manager for Metroplex BMX. “It’s a national championship for all age groups – many kids under the age of 12 couldn’t ride that Beijing course.”
According to Elmore, the six-foot start hill dives into an 80-foot straightaway to the first obstacle, which is a step-up double. After turn one, the first obstacle is a big double, then a tabletop, followed by a medium sized double. Going into the second turn, there is a large triple.
Coming out of second turn to the third straightaway is the rhythm section, out of the fourth turn into a straightaway is most of the riders’ favorite part: it is a step-up, into a double, another double and then a tabletop to the finish.
Most finishing times on the 1,000-foot track should average about 40 seconds.
BMX national championships for rival nations: Australia, New Zealand, France, Great Britain, Netherlands and Latvia will also take place over the next few months leading up to the Games. What’s different about BMX compared to other cycling disciplines is the wild possibility for something to go wrong in a very short amount of time.
That BMX is such a crapshoot is what makes BMX racing thrilling. That also explains why BMX may qualify for a whopping two hours of prime time television coverage during the Olympics. To be sure, the top racers in the world have been finely tuning their game ever since it was announced that BMX would be an Olympic sport and odds are they will earn a trip to Beijing. But they also know that the variables are too hard to ignore.
“It’s just as simple as a bad start,” Bennett said. “Like going late out of the gate can make or break you. The race is so quick that you pretty much have to be spot on every time. The track at DeSoto is really tight and short so you have to put together a solid lap and everything has to click for it to go right because it’s over in the blink of an eye.”
VeloNews.com will provide complete coverage of the elite races at this Saturday’s BMX national championships