Pump up the volume: BMX arrives by Tube

Set against azure skies, the BMX setting in London's Olympic Park offers spectacular sport

Armed with his notepad and camera, PHILIP BARKER ventures into London’s Olympic Park to witness first-hand the media arrangements for one of the newest, and loudest, of events planned for the 2012 Games

For British sports journalists at the Beijing Olympics, it was one of the most memorable moments, though for all the wrong reasons. A momentary misjudgement spelt despair for Britain’s BMX world champion Shanaze Reade, then still a teenager, as she crashed out. But it made sure that we would bookmark the event as high on drama and one to watch in 2012.

Fast forward to 2011 and the BMX Supercross World Cup, the first outdoor event to be held in London’s Olympic Park, on the rolling mounds of earth and sand carefully bulldozed together beside the Velodrome.

Reade is happy to join in the hype. “The test event is massive, the only chance to ride and get used to the track before the Olympics,” she said.

Shanaze Reade: Britain's BMX star rider

Journalists who are assigned the short journey from the Main Press Centre to cover BMX are well advised to pack ear plugs. Many in the know at the event on Friday did.

Each rider is permitted to choose their own music to ride to during the time trial, though some were not quite what the course commentator described as “Fumpin’ tunes”. Apparently, it’s all part of Jacques Rogge and his friends in Lausanne “gettin’ down with the yoof.” Although one rider, for his music track, did choose Chesney Hawkes.

The crowd was also treated to the unexpurgated version of one rap song, albeit only for the 40 seconds it took for the lap to be completed. At this rate the Olympics will need a PG certificate.

Explicit lyrics not withstanding, it is not hard to see why the International Olympic Committee has fallen in love with this sport.

Expect thrills and spills galore at BMX racing

The riders come down at rate of roughly one a minute, the men pedalling furiously over their 470-metre rollercoaster, switchback course. It offers perfect bite-sized chunks for television. And, duly sorted and ordered by the earlier time trials,  when the riders race each other for medals on the tight undulating course, there is the same potential for mayhem seen in snow boarding or ski cross, now integral to the Winter Olympics.

“He’s lost his mojo,” the stadium commentator said as one rider nearly lost control of his bike as he thundered down the deep gradient from the start. To the relief of all, said mojo was restored by the time the rider came into the finishing straight.

When riders do come a cropper, it was to the unsubtle music from M*A*S*H. Accidents are a way of life, if not a badge of honour, in BMX. Before racing began, one of the big screens played a video comprised exclusively of riders talking about their injuries.

With work still being completed on the Olympic Park, organisers installed a single press centre for the Basketball and BMX test events which have both been taking place this week. Next year, the venue press centre for BMX will be in the adjacent Velodrome with working space for 160, each with internet access (all duly paid for by the journalists or their publications, despite the multi-million pound sponsorship from BT). More than half the places in the press tribune will be tabled and all will have cabled internet.

There will be 90 photographer places around the course and in the women’s race, riders head down into a purpose built tunnel, dubbed the “London Underground”. The women’s course is 30 metres shorter than that raced by the men.

“The tunnel is cool. We’ve never had one of those before,” Laura Reynolds, the Australian rider, said.

“It has to look good on TV and I want the course to be as big and as crazy as possible.”

To keep the crowd interested, the super time trial here featured the hot seat. The rider with the fastest time (and given a green helmet, not a yellow jersey, here), then sat in a padded armchair by the finish, flanked by outsized cans of the sponsors’ high-energy drink (the one which “gives you wings”), until deposed by someone quicker. Next year there’ll be no sponsors logos emblazoned on the course, just the Olympic rings, and the drink of choice will come in little red cans.

Mercifully, the torrential downpour came during the practice session on Thursday rather than competition proper. Even so it came close to making the area a swamp. Spectator and media areas were open to the elements during the test events. If we get a similar downpour during the Games – and it is England in August, after all – it could create a very bedraggled scene indeed. Even with a £9 billion budget, the Great British weather remains one thing which London’s Olympic organisers cannot control.


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