Sketch of the Laoshan BMX
Imagine a pack of racers tearing down
a BMX course with a UFO-shaped velodrome and Beijing in the background, as
remote-control cameras catch all the action from wires overhead.
Crowds will gather at both ends of the snaking course, near the 8-m-high
rolling start ramp and at the lower-elevation finish line, as helicopters
capture aerial beauty shots.
"No one has ever seen a track like this before," said Mats Notlind, a
technical director with the International Cycling Union (UCI), who was helping
with the venue construction in Beijing last week.
"I would say it is the most perfect track ever built," said his colleague
Johan Lindstrom, the UCI's BMX sports coordinator.
Forget Travis Pastrana. When BMX makes its Olympic debut in Beijing next year
it will be in a space age setting that breaks the mould in terms of what the
sport has seen before.
no mistake, the Laoshan BMX course in western Beijing's Shijingshan District is
going to be the most difficult the world's elite have ever faced.
|BMX Begins: How
It started in the late 1960s in California, has since spawned a
cult following at the Summer X Games and is now one of the most
exciting sports at the 2008 Olympics.
Bicycle motocross - or BMX
to its hordes of disciples - straddles the line between cycling and
extreme sports, and has always had an edgy, subcultural feel.
also generates captivating headlines and the allure of
Take Travis Pastrana, for instance. He
won the Moto X Best Trick at the X Games last August with one of the
scariest stunts ever pulled in professional sports: the first-ever
double backflip on a BMX.
But the sport has always been about
pushing the envelope.
Forty years ago in the US, it first
appeared on the radar at a time when motocross (motorbike racing)
was enjoying huge popularity stateside.
Children and teenagers
with the desire but not the means to participate in motocross sated
their appetite by racing bicycles on self-built tracks.
young daredevils completed the imitation by dressing up in motocross
gear. The sport was given the name BMX and the conception was
BMX races are held on circuits of around 350m,
featuring jumps, banked corners and other obstacles. Eight riders
compete in each heat (qualifying rounds, quarter finals,
semi-finals, finals) with the top four qualifying for the next
BMX racing was an instant hit, and nowhere more so than in
California. During the early 1970s a sanctioning body was founded
for the sport there. This is considered the official start of BMX
racing, which was introduced in other continents later that decade,
notably Europe in 1978.
The International BMX Federation was
founded in April 1981, with the first world championships arriving
in the following year. BMX rapidly developed as a unique sporting
entity, and after several years clearly had more in common with
cycling than motorcycling codes. As such, it was fully integrated
into cycling's governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale
(UCI), in January 1993.
The US, Europe and Australia have
dominated BMX in past years, but it is now growing in international
appeal. Beach-loving South America has made rapid strides and the
UCI now recognizes official BMX activities by 75 national
Over 1,600 competitors from 32 countries
participated in the 2003 World Championships in Perth,
On June 29, 2003, the International Olympic Committee
decided to introduce BMX to the 2008 Beijing Games.
"There are going to be some falls," said John Pauline of PTW, the Australian
architects who are advising on the course. "There are going to be some
Unlike other venues used for international events that have to cater to all
levels of competition, this one has been tailor-made to test the limits of human
The initial start ramp will give the riders maximum acceleration, bigger air
on jumps and a greater risk of personal injury. But for BMX fans, that is all
part of the thrill.
"I think the designers are constantly frustrated that they're always building
courses that need to be compromised, whereas at the Olympic Games for the first
time they can create the most ridiculously hard BMX course to challenge the best
riders in the world," said Pauline.
The course will be linked to the neighboring Olympic cycling track (Laoshan
velodrome) by a vertical elevator to shrink logistical costs. Together with the
nearby mountain biking course, the trio form one of several clusters of Olympic
venues that organizers hope will spur development in one of Beijing's less
In fact, the BMX track comprises two overlapping routes: one for the top 32
men in the world (370m) and another for the top 16 women (a slightly shorter
To make the men's competition more unpredictable, those who survive the
initial rally out of the gates may have a choice of two routes. China's sports
officials are mulling opening a junction one third of the way around that lets
riders choose whether to stay on the outside or branch inside onto the women's
The downside? Those who veer onto the women's side would then have to
reconnect with the men's track via an extremely gnarly jump.
Fortunately, the races are single-sex only.
"Some of the major banks that the women are turning around, the men are going
to be jumping over, so they're going to have the biggest air, the biggest hang
time, if you like, on these bikes, that the BMX world has ever seen," said
Lindstrom said the 8m start ramp was a new innovation that was incorporated
after it was used successfully in recent World Cups
"You don't really see it on normal BMX tracks, but we knew that we wanted a
very exciting format in the Olympic Games," he said, adding that the riders will
also have to take on gravity: the finish line is 4m lower than the start,
creating a natural momentum for the riders that keeps on snowballing until they
cross the finish line.
It took the UCI three years to design the track, a feat belied by its
seemingly simple layout and lack of obstacles. Lindstrom said much thought went
into taking the sport to the next level through a carefully engineered venue.
"While we were designing the track, we were also developing the sport," he
said. "We don't want to just go into the Olympics with the traditional format.
We want to create something spectacular."
The format of the course also developed through testing at recent World Cup
series. The UCI sought feedback from riders and viewers alike to make 2008 a
banner year for BMX.
"Now we finally got the right concept," said Lindstrom. "It's even more
amazing in real life than in the 3D drawings we looked at."
As the biggest-ever BMX venue, the track has sucked up vast amounts of
materials: 10,000 cubic meters, compared to 3,000-4,000 in regular tracks.
The rough layout of the track was finished earlier this month. It will be
fully built before Beijing hosts the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup test event
from August 20-21.