It is wild that the first gates for BMX competition drop tomorrow at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. For many, including myself, it has been a long four years since we witnessed Latvia’s Maris Strombergs shock the world and claim his second Olympic gold medal. That paired with Colombia’s Mariana Pajon launching from one of best athletes in her country to superstar status overnight after her gold medal performance and it leaves us here, four years later, frothing at the mouth and crunching our fingernails while awaiting the first gate drop in Rio.
So what will happen this year? Are we going to see Strombergs do the unthinkable and capture a third gold? Will Pajon take a second back to Colombia? Or will the best from USA, Austrailia, Canada, and the other representing countries ride into the Rio sunset with one of the two gold medals around their necks? Really, any medal from the toughest BMX race in the world is a true accomplishment and now it is just a matter of time before the best in the world test each other’s limits and only a few select greats come out victorious.
Let’s take a look at the daily schedule of events…
Event: Time Trials
Time: 12:30am est/9:30am pst
One thing that the Olympic BMX event does not have compared to certain other cycling disciplines is a medaled time trial. The BMX time trials are strictly for seeding purposes to see where the 32 men and 16 women will stack up during the initial qualifying rounds in the following two days. Though no medals will be on the line, the riders are still going to want to shoot for a solid time to make sure they get prime gate selection in qualifying.
Looking back over the year, there are certain riders who stand out during this event. For the men, Canada’s Tory Nyhaug has absolutely dominated the time trial segments of the UCI BMX World Cup series. This could be a good sign that he will once again find himself on top with the fastest seeding run. I saw a video of him practicing, and he certainly looks to be capable of pulling in the top seed time. Riders that will be right there giving him a hard time though are Australia’s Sam Willoughby, Niek Kimman from the Netherlands, two-time Olympic Gold medalist Maris Strombergs, and USA’s Corben Sharrah. All of those riders have had top three TT finishes and could give the Canadian a run for his money.
When the ladies go for their fastest times, the power trio of Caroline Buchanan, Alise Post, and Mariana Pajon will be the three to watch. These are arguably the fastest three on the planet and each one has a TT victory this year. The only other female to come close to a TT win is Laura Smulders from the Netherlands. She has a third and second and could be a dark horse to having the best time for seeding.
The time trial will take up all of Wednesday’s coverage, but it should give us a good look as to who is killing it on the track and who is struggling. Perhaps it could give you some insight for some last-minute Las Vegas betting (yes you can bet on the Olympic BMX races). Sure the TT is one at a time, but it can certainly set the tone for the competition days. Luckily for the women, they will have a rest day on Thursday, so it may not have as much of a mental effect as it could on some of the male competitors.
Event: Men’s Quarterfinals
Time: 12:30am est/9:30am pst
Nicholas Long ~ USA Corben Sharrah ~ USA Connor Fields ~ USA
Jeremy Rencurel ~ France Joris Daudet ~ France Amidou Mir ~ France
Kyle Dodd ~ South Africa Toni Syarifudim ~ Indonesia Trent Jones ~ New Zealand
David Graf ~ Switzerland Carlos Ramirez ~ Colombia Jefferson Milano ~ Venezuela
Kyle Evans ~ Great Britain Liam Phillips ~ Great Brittain Tory Nyhaug ~ Canada
Anthony Dean ~ Australia Bodi Turner ~ Australia Sam Willoughby ~ Australia
Luis Brethauer ~ German Jelle Van Gorkom ~ Netherlands Edzus Treimanis ~ Latvia
Niklas Laustsen ~ Denmark Gonzalo Molina ~ Argentina Tore Navrestad ~ Norway
Niek Kimmann ~ Netherlands Twan Van Gendt ~ Netherlands Carlos Oquendo ~Colombia
Alfredo Campo ~ Ecuador Maris Strombergs ~ Latvia Evgeny Komarov ~ Russia
Yoshitaku Nagasako ~ Japan Renato Rezende ~ Brazil
Since the induction of BMX Racing into the Olympics, I have heard my share of those who could see more than thirty-two athletes lining up and battling. Perhaps you could double it to sixty-four and run three qualifying rounds to pull down to your quarterfinalists. No matter your thoughts, the current system works great. Thirty-two of the world’s best riders will line up in the gate, and only half of them will continue to the semifinals on Friday. We all have our favorites and perhaps our own list of sixteen who we see making it through the first elimination rounds, but then again this is BMX and we all know that anything is possible. The rider with the smallest chances could persevere and make it through. With a wide open field, stay glued to the screen to see what could go down in the quarterfinals.
Riders to watch are going to be the big hitters. Of course, all eyes will be on Maris Strombergs, the only man to win Olympic gold in BMX. Sam Willoughby (Silver in London 2012) and Joris Daudet will also be on the radar for many as these are two of the top foreigners who have both put up some serious results in the last couple of years – most recently the World Championship title going to Daudet. Another rider that you will need to keep an eye on is Niek Kimmann of the Netherlands. The 20-year-old prodigy has already proven he can compete with the best after winning the 2014 UCI Junior Men’s title and following it with an insane victory in Elite Men at the 2015 World Championships in Zolder.
Lastly, the American trio of Nic Long, Connor Fields, and Corben Sharrah are going to be a must watch. Nic Long will be the most important. Four years ago in London, Long’s Olympic medal hopes were cut on the first day of competition after failing to qualify out of the quarters. That was a crushing blow and something I am sure he will not want to repeat in Rio. He also had a fall in practice but looks to be in good shape after rebuilding a new front wheel. Connor Fields will be looking to repeat the process as he did in London to find his way into the semis. Lastly, Corben Sharrah. He is the only non-returning member of Team USA. This kid is extremely calm and collected in high-pressure situations, and this is certainly the biggest event of his career. If he can keep a cool head, he should breeze through into the semifinals on Friday.
The rider line-up this year is better than ever and I think there are going to be some amazing battles with everyone jockeying for position to make the Friday show. Make sure to keep a lookout on your favorite riders and cheer them on during the live webcast.
Event: Semifinals, Finals, & Medal Ceremony
Time: 12:30am est/9:30am pst
Alise Post ~ USA Brooke Craine ~ USA Caroline Buchanan ~ Australia Mariana Pajon ~ Colombia
Amanda Carr ~ Thailand Laura Smulders ~ Netherlands Stefany Hernandez ~ Venezuela
Manon Valentino ~ France Lauren Reynolds ~ Australia Nadja Pries ~ Germany
Gabriela Maria Diaz ~ Argentina Merle Van Benthem ~ Netherlands Elke Vanhoof ~ Belgium
Priscilla Carnaval ~ Brazil Simone Christensen ~ Denmark Yaroslava Bondarenko ~ Russia
I listed the female competitors here since this will be their first day of competition outside of the time trials. Whoever walked out of the TT victorious already has a confidence boost as they head into their final two races. I certainly think you will see the top riders navigate their semifinal with precision and smarts in order to save themselves for the main event. Although, we could see them stacked in similar motos which could cause some fireworks given the right circumstances. Nonetheless, Buchanan, Post, and Pajon will be the top three to beat over the weekend. More importantly, though, Alise Post will be hunting for serious revenge. She nearly dragged herself across the finish line during the semi’s in London after a nasty fall in the final straight. The fire is in her heart to make the big show and she is more than capable of taking down any of the ladies she will face in Rio.
Venezuela’s Stefany Hernandez, who took the World title in 2015, will be one to watch. She had a less than stellar showing in London but has since improved significantly to be a real threat in Rio. A couple of other ladies that may find themselves in the medal battle will be Laura Smulders of the Netherlands and Lauren Reynolds of Australia. The Australian has the ability to have outstanding performances at any time, which could give her the edge over some of her other competitors. Smulders, however, already has the taste of Olympic glory after taking home the bronze medal in London. That experience, high skill, and the motivation of another Olympic medal should be enough to get her in the mix for the main event.
Lastly, Brooke Crain of the USA. After getting called in during the final hours to replace the injured Ariel Martin on Team USA in London, Crain busted down barriers to make it all the way to the main. Unfortunately, she would have some issues and finish last. She already has the speed to get her there again, and the experience of being on the main event gate could yield big results for the California native.
Once the final eight are determined for both the men and women, it will be anyone’s game. With this being the third go-round for BMX in the Olympic Games, I do not foresee anything happening that will truly shock all of us watching, but then again crazier things have happened. In the end, there will be two Olympic champions. Will they be repeats, or will new faces find the top step of the podium? Either way we are in for the best Olympic BMX racing yet. Be sure to keep it glued to ridebmx.com/race for all of the latest updates and race information – we will have you covered every crank of the way….
For a complete racing schedule, click here…courtesy of Mike Carruth of BMXnews.com