BMX racing is growing up at the Summer Olympics, with Visalia’s Brooke Crain among those helping show the way.
The 23-year-old had a smooth opening ride Wednesday in an extreme sport where cyclists pedal on bikes over a roughly quarter mile-long course filled with bumps, hills and sharp twists. She completed her seeding run in 35.345 seconds at the Olympic BMX Centre at Deodoro X-Park.
A sport aimed at younger audiences, it is also now filled with a generation of elite riders who have been at it since BMX became an Olympic medal event in Beijing in 2008.
“Most people in London (at the 2012 Games) were young like me, or 19, 20, so we grew up and stayed at a good level in BMX,” said Joris Daudet, the 25-year-old reigning men’s world champion from France.
Crain is back, too, crashing in her opening run at the 2012 Games as a late-injury replacement but bouncing back to reach the final.
This time, there were no crashes and Crain’s time was the fastest for Team USA and seventh overall among the women.
Defending gold medalist and reigning world champion Mariana Pajón of Colombia closed with the fastest ride on a warm and muggy afternoon in 34.508. Australia’s Caroline Buchanan, another medal favorite who raced in London, was second fastest in 34.752. American Alise Post was eighth in 35.509.
The women’s semifinals are Friday, with the first of two races at 9:30 a.m. PDT. The top four in each semifinal will advance to the final at 11 a.m.
France’s Daudet was first among the men in 34.617 seconds. He was followed by David Graf of Switzerland and Sam Willoughby of Australia.
The men, with a larger field, move on to Thursday’s quarterfinals.
BMX, an abbreviation for “bicycle motocross,” traces its roots to the late 1960s in Southern California. Besides racing, there is also freestyle BMX in which cyclists ride ramps and perform tricks on their bikes.
But racing is the discipline that has taken hold at the Olympics. Over the years, it’s grown from niche activity to X-Games event to an Olympic medal sport.
BMX’s inclusion at the Olympics eight years ago prompted other countries to create programs to develop riders. In the cases of smaller nations such as Latvia and Colombia, more attention might be paid to a rider once he or she achieves a level of success.
The field this year is deeper than ever, said Connor Fields, back for Team USA along with fellow 2012 Olympian Nic Long and alternate Corben Sharrah.
Willoughby wore silver four years ago, and Latvia’s Maris Strombergs is chasing a third straight gold. At 29, Strombergs is a BMX sage.
“Everybody is focused on this event,” Daudet said. “Everybody has the experience, too.”
Another top medal contender is the Netherlands’ Niek Kimmann, 20, who won time trials at the worlds in May.
“Now all over the world,” Fields said, “you have guys who are 18 to 21 years old who are graduates of their respective country’s development program, which is something that in 2008 or 2012, you wouldn’t have gotten that same sort of pathway.”
The United States is consistently a top contender, though cycling in general has not been a top funding priority for the U.S. Olympic Committee, regardless of discipline.
That means more international riders have caught up to the U.S cyclists. International World Cup races, in turn, have become more competitive in recent years.
That BMX has stuck around for three Olympics is a positive sign for action sports in general. The 2020 Games will add three more to the lineup: climbing, skateboarding and surfing.
Consider BMX as the trailblazer.
“One of the few action sports in the Summer Olympic Games, and a good sign that action sports is strong for 2020 now in Tokyo,” Buchanan said. “So from an action-sports side of things, I think it’s super positive for the Summer Games.”
The Associated Press’ Genaro C. Armas and Bee sportswriter Angel Moreno contributed to this report.
Olympic Cycling (BMX) Results
1. Joris Daudet, France, 34.617.
2. David Graf, Switzerland, 34.678.
3. Sam Willoughby, Australia, 34.714.
4. Connor Fields, United States, 34.768.
5. Corben Sharrah, United States, 34.893.
6. Twan van Gendt, Netherlands, 34.933.
7. Maris Strombergs, Latvia, 34.953.
8. Niek Kimmann, Netherlands, 35.070.
9. Nicholas Long, United States, 35.088.
10. Liam Phillips, Britain, 35.095.
11. Amidou Mir, France, 35.248.
12. Yoshitaku Nagasako, Japan, 35.286.
13. Bodi Turner, Australia, 35.333.
14. Carlos Mario Oquendo Zabala, Colombia, 35.341.
15. Luis Brethauer, Germany, 35.379.
16. Renato Rezende, Brazil, 35.404.
17. Jelle van Gorkom, Netherlands, 35.413.
18. Tory Nyhaug, Canada, 35.422.
19. Carlos Alberto Ramirez Yepes, Colombia, 35.423.
20. Anthony Dean, Australia, 35.445.
21. Kyle Evans, Britain, 35.776.
22. Jeremy Rencurel, France, 35.884.
23. Jefferson Milano, Venezuela, 35.945.
24. Niklas Laustsen, Denmark, 36.199.
25. Trent Jones, New Zealand, 36.331.
26. Kyle Dodd, South Africa, 36.454.
27. Alfredo Campo, Ecuador, 36.463.
28. Tore Navrestad, Norway, 36.484.
29. Gonzalo Molina, Argentina, 36.860.
30. Evgeny Komarov, Russia, 36.958.
31. Toni Syarifudin, Indonesia, 40.975.
32. Edzus Treimanis, Latvia, DNF.
1. Mariana Pajón, Colombia, 34.508.
2. Caroline Buchanan, Australia, 34.752.
3. Laura Smulders, Netherlands, 35.114.
4. Stefany Hernandez, Venezuela, 35.202.
5. Simone Christensen, Denmark, 35.251.
6. Elke Vanhoof, Belgium, 35.325.
7. Brooke Crain, United States, 35.345.
8. Alise Post, United States, 35.509.
9. Merle van Benthem, Netherlands, 35.644.
10. Lauren Reynolds, Australia, 35.666.
11. Yaroslava Bondarenko, Russia, 35.682.
12. Manon Valentino, France, 36.377.
13. Amanda Carr, Thailand, 36.464.
14. Nadja Pries, Germany, 37.152.
15. Priscilla Stevaux Carnaval, Brazil, 37.534.
16. Gabriela Maria Diaz, Argentina, 40.073.