London 2012 Olympics: From 70s youth craze to Olympics must-see
FOR THOSE who regard BMX as a fad that should be consigned to the scrapheap of history, alongside Spangles, Space Hoppers and The Sweeney, think again.
Just as London 2012 looked to be winding down, the most white-knuckle of the 36 sports reached its fast and furious climax yesterday.
BMX, which evolved from the dirt tracks and car parks of California to become a worldwide youth craze in the 1970s, has become a cult favourite among spectators, its status now that of a global sporting spectacle, albeit not one for the faint-hearted.
A blur of speed, clattering crashes and immense technical skill set to a booming soundtrack, the event has proved a major draw in Stratford, with some desperate fans offering up to £1,000 on social networking sites for tickets for yesterday’s semi-finals and finals.
Lending it his official stamp of approval, David Beckham was among the crowd watching the action on the 450-metre track in the shadow of the Velodrome.
British hopes were dashed when Somerset-born Liam Phillips missed out on the medals after tumbling from his bike on the second straight. In the women’s event, Shanaze Reade, a three-time world champion, had a disappointing race in her final, the 23-year-old from Crewe finishing in sixth place.
For onlookers, though, the sheer thrill of the sport helped make up for such disappointments. Envisaged as an event to draw a younger audience underwhelmed by the likes of dressage or table tennis, the races begin atop a 26ft ramp, riders quickly descending to navigate a series of unforgiving jumps at speeds of up to 35mph.
The main draw, however, is the crashes, of which there are many. During the first men’s semi-final yesterday, no fewer than five riders out of a field of eight were sent spilling over the track while, in the women’s competition, 21-year-old Brazilian Squel Stein was carried out of the arena on a stretcher after hitting the ground hard following the second jump.
Competitors see danger as part of the sport. Mat Hoffman, one of the most decorated exponents of the pursuit, perhaps put it best when he said: “If you want to experience all of the successes and pleasure in life, you have to be willing to accept all the pain and failure that comes with it.”
Lest anyone doubt Hoffman’s commitment, a roll call of his injuries makes for eyewatering reading. He has been knocked unconscious more than 100 times, suffered more than 60 broken bones and has even flatlined on numerous occasions.
Others are equally mindful of the risks. Phillips, for example, sustained a fractured collarbone in May, which raised doubts about his ability to compete before a home crowd but, in the lead up to the final, the 23-year-old conceded that the odd fracture or twisted limb comes with the territory. “You know that many people in the crowd want to see a crash. It’s a bit strange, but it’s exciting,” he explained.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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