Posted by Editoress on 08/19/08
BMX has its Olympic debut tomorrow (Wednesday), and athletes have spent the past few days training on the course at the Laoshan cycling venue. The facilities are superb - well beyond what BMX riders are used to seeing.
We managed to speak with a few of the athletes about the competition, and what it is like to be a part of the Olympics.
Anne Caroline Chausson (France) was a multi-time mountain bike world champion in Downhill, Dual and 4-Cross, after originally starting in BMX (where she was also the world champion). She retired, but then came back to competition when it was announced that BMX would be added to the Games for Beijing. Since then, she has been busy honing her skills, and is now ranked as one of the top threats in the women's race, along with Shanaze Reade (Great Britain), and Jill Kintner (USA).
"When they announced that BMX would be in the Olympics, I came back. This is a big opportunity to be at the Olympic Games, and now everyone gets to enjoy this crazy little sport."
"Everything is very different from mountain bike, for sure. In mountain bike you race the track by yourself, but here it is a pack, which I have to prepare for. I knew how to BMX, but I have had to work on it a lot, and I am still learning at every race. To win here would be the cherry on the cake; I have the cake with the mountain bike, and this would add the cherry."
"It is a good course for me, but would be better if it was more technical and had the bigger jumps like the men. Here it is more like one jump - pedal, one jump - pedal."
"Shanaze is the biggest competition, if she was not here it would be better for me [laughs]. She is so fast out of the gate, and me, I'm not so fast on that part. But it is one day, one race, and we are getting closer; she is not unbeatable. I trust in myself."
Jill Kintner, the three time mountain bike 4-Cross world champion also spoke about what she expects here.
"It feels good to be here, I'm happy to be training at the venue finally. This track is so fun, and I'm glad that all the hard work has paid off. But it was very tight [to qualify for the Games] ... by one point, only by one point did I make it..."
"I think this course is good for everyone. The [start] ramp isn't a problem; I just want to wai for it to go green. But the first turn is it for the race, if you are not on the inside at the turn, by being at the front, you are at a definite disadvantage because the corners a little flat so you can't carve through it."
"For favourites? I would like to say myself, obviously, but Shanaze has incredible speed, and Chausson has still got mad skills. For me to be satisfied, I'm after a good lap. If I can do that, my mission is accomplished and I will come away happy. But the competition here is much fiercer, much more depth than I'm used to in mountain bike."
"For being at the Olympics, it is a bigger stage, but the riders and the competition is the same as always. I do see that countries come togehter for the Olympics, and it definitely brings out national pride. But what makes it most surreal is to walk down the hall, and there's Tyson Gay (100m sprinter) ... My mom, my brother, Bryn [Atkinson] are here to watch me, so it's pretty cool to be able to give this to them; they are so proud, and feel part of it."
Canada's Sam Cools is also favoured to make the Finals, after making drastic changes to her program in the last year, and finishing fifth at the world championships.
"My luck wasn't too good the last couple of Worlds, but I switched coaches and moved to Switzerland for 10 months. I'm training with the French, the Dutch, the English ... there is always someone to train against. So now I can go out and try my best. I'm definitely more confident now, and anything can happen on the day. This is it, I couldn't picture being anywhere else. My preparation has been perfect."
Where will the race be won? "On the finish line. I'm serious, anything can happen in a BMX race, so you can never give up. You can go from first to fifth in three seconds."
Cools is wearing number 56, at her request. "It was the number I was wearing when I won my first Worlds."
On the men's side, the United States is clearly the strongest team, with Kyle Bennett, Mike Day and Donny Robinson. However, they will get lots of competition from riders such as Jared Graves, Luke Madill (both Australia), Jonathan Fernando Suarez (Venezuela), Michal Prokop (Czech Republic) and Maris Strombergs (Latvia).
Prokop and Graves both returned to BMX from mountain bike 4-Cross, with considerable success. The Czech rider crashed at the mountain bike world championships in in June, "I injured my shoulder during practice there, I dislocated it, but it is alright now and won't be a problem here."
Graves admitted to trepidation over the high start ramp. "At first it's pretty intimidating, but once you've done a couple of races and get used to racing with seven other guys, you get used to it. If you have any fear, you're already on the back foot. You just have to go nuts."
Scott Erwood is the lone Canadian man in the race, but "two years ago, no, the Olympics was not on my mind, I didn't think it was possible. I qualified Canada at the Worlds in China earlier this year, then me and Jimmy Brown had a race off last month to see who would represent Canada."
"I really like the start, it's a good track for my calibre of racing - fast, with big jumps. My goal is to make the semi finals, and whatever happens from there, I'll be happy. Just knowing that I tried my best, and had nothing left in the tank, that I gave everything I had, will mean that I am satisfied."
"On this track the start is important; if you are first into the first corner, then there is a pretty good chance you will win."
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