Learn about this Summer Olympic sport

April 27, 2012

BMX riders compete in the men's quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Cycling rolled onto the modern Olympics scene when road cycling and track cycling debuted at the 1896 Games in Athens, Greece. Today, cycling is divided into four main disciplines: road, track, mountain bike and BMX, with the last two events making their first appearances in recent Games. With the popularity of cycling gaining steam each year, all four events are sure to draw big crowds at the 2012 London Olympics.

Rules of the Games

There are two road cycling events each for men and women. For the road race, all riders start at the same time. The length of the men’s route is about 155 miles. The women’s route measures about 87 miles. In this event, the first to cross the finish line takes the gold. Meanwhile, for the time trial race, riders start 90 seconds apart. The competitor who rides the course the fastest wins. This course is shorter, with the men’s measuring 27 miles and the women’s measuring 18 miles.

There are five track cycling events that test a rider’s speed and endurance. Track bikes have a fixed wheel, which forces riders to pedal continuously, and no brakes. To stop, riders put pressure on the pedals. The sprint event involves a series of three-lap races, in which individuals race head-to-head. There is also a team sprint. In the keirin, riders start the race by following a pacing motorcycle, and then speed to the finish. For the team pursuit, two opposing teams start the race on opposite sides of the track. The team that catches up to the challenger first, or that records the fastest time over the full distance, wins. The fifth event, the Omnium, makes its Olympic debut in London. In this multiple-race format, individuals compete in six different events on the track.

Mountain biking entered into the Olympics at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s rough riding for competitors—the contest takes place over a rugged, hilly course in the countryside. Each competition can last up to an hour and 45 minutes. Riders start the race together and must complete a set number of laps. The first competitor to cross the finish wins the gold and the glory.

The newest of the Olympic cycling events is BMX (bicycle motocross). The high-flying sport first started gaining popularity in the 1960s, in California. It is making its second Olympic appearance at the 2012 London Games. The competition will be held on a short, outdoor track. Riders start off on a ramp about 26 feet high. The runs last only 40 seconds each, but the race is demanding. Riders face jumps and bumps at every turn. Men compete in a total of four heats and women in three. The top four riders from the men’s semifinal and the women’s semifinal move on to the finals. The medals are decided over one last run.


Click here to read about field hockey at the Olympic Games.

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