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Liggett: BMX and mountain biking do not belong at Olympics

Commentator laments subtraction of classic track events from the Olympic schedule

LONDON, England (VN) — On the eve of the London Games, British cycling commentator Phil Liggett raised a bit of Olympic controversy on Thursday when he told Australian newspaper The Herald Sun that BMX and mountain biking do not belong as Olympic events.

Liggett’s primary complaint, it seemed, was not about cycling’s off-road disciplines appearing in the Olympics so much as the sacrifice track racing was forced to make to allow the disciplines.

Gone from previous Olympic formats is the individual pursuit, won in 2008 by Bradley Wiggins, as well as the points race, Madison, men’s 1km time trial and women’s 500-meter time trial.

“It is absolutely disgraceful what they have done,” Liggett said of the change, introduced by the UCI and approved by the International Olympic Committee following the 2008 Beijing Games. “They have devastated the track with the new events and taken out the iconic events of the Olympics.”

The five Olympic track cycling events, contested by both men and women in London next week, are the individual sprint, the team sprint, the keirin, the team pursuit, and the omnium.

The omnium is akin to track cycling’s pentathlon — consisting a 15km scratch race (10km for women), a 4km individual pursuit (3km for women), a 30km points race (20km for women), a 1km time trial (500m for women), a 250m flying start time trial, and an elimination race — rewarding all-around performances rather than those of a specialist.

“They have taken out the exciting and interesting events — the individual pursuit, the 1km time trial and the women’s 500m time trial — and put in an omnium that no one will ever understand,” Liggett said. “There is only one rider from each country in the omnium and they are a jack of all trades, and master of none.

“Nations and riders complained, but the UCI wanted equality,” Liggett continued. “They got that but they also took out women’s events. They introduced BMX. Great, but I am sure [Olympics founder] Pierre de Coubertin would have laughed his head off if he found out it was an Olympic discipline. It might be exciting but we are talking the Olympic Games. We have never had a good mountain biking event. Thousands will watch them but they are not Olympic gold medal events. They weren’t meant to be in the Olympic Games.”

Facing criticism from athletes of both disciplines, Liggett followed up on Twitter, writing, “I have nothing at all against MTB or BMX, so please don’t misinterpret what I said.”

Cross-country mountain biking has been in the Olympics since 1996. No U.S. man has ever medaled; however, in 1996 Canadian Allison Sydor took silver while American Susan DeMattei took bronze.

At this year’s Olympics, Canadian Catharine Pendrel and American Georgia Gould, teammates at Luna, are heavily favored to medal, if not win, the women’s cross-country event.

Former pro-level cross-country mountain bikers who have gone on to pursue road racing with success include grand tour winners Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), as well as Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), Jakob Fuglsang (RadioShack-Nissan), Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R La Mondiale), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) and recent Tour de France points competition winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).

The United States medaled in 2008 in the men’s and women’s BMX events, the first time BMX appeared at the Olympics, with Mike Day taking silver and Donny Robinson bronze in the men’s race, and Jill Kintner taking bronze in the women’s race.