Olympic BMX Racing and BMX Freestyle: The way to watch BMX on the Olympics
BMX isn’t new to the Olympics, but a new discipline will be making its debut this summer at the Tokyo Olympics 2021 — BMX Freestyle.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering a whole bunch about how this specific realm of cycling works and hows it is judged. You’re not alone; many spandex and even the baggie crowd have limited BMX experience. That’s why we’re going to layout how BMX cycling at the Olympics works, how it’s judged, and how to watch it.
What is it — Olympic BMX Racing
These aren’t the BMX bike that you see around your neighborhood and at your local trails — these are bikes that are built to jump but also roll fast and smooth on flowing BMX tracks. Bicycle Motocross (BMX) is raced on dirt or asphalt tracks with similar features on each — different elements ranging from rollers to jumps to berms.
Riders line up at the starting gate, and when it drops, they take off at full intensity looking for the fastest way around the track. With multiple riders racing at once, the races are short but packed with excitement with explosive speed, jostling for position, and the question of whether to roll, double, or even triple that next jump.
After establishing the BMX Federation in 1981, the first World Championships was held the following year before BMX was fully integrated into the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) in 1993. BMX made its Olympic debut at the Beijing 2008 Games and has been part of the Olympic program ever since. 2021 is the first time that BMX Freestyle will be showcased in the Olympic games.
Tokyo Olympics 2021 BMX Track
All the BMX race action will take place at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, close to the waterfront and near the Athletes Village in Ariake, Koto-Ku, Tokyo.
Hows do the races work?
Imagine — a max of eight riders at a time, all gated atop an 8m high 35-degree start hill, held back by a timed gate, waiting for it to beep and to sprint for the holeshot (sometimes reaching over 2600 watts!). Racers sprint for a clean look at the 400m long track with berms, jumps, rollers, and flat open sections. Riders race in full-face helmets, chest protection, long sleeves, and goggles, as the wrecks can be pretty dicey at the speed they can produce.
If you’re the first rider out of the gate — you have a distinct advantage and a clear look at the track, though it’s hard to keep that lead and stay on your line with others trying to take it. The short race involves explosive power and cunning race tactics as each corner allows another rider to overtake and throw the previous off their line — this sometimes leads to crashes, but as they say, “rubbing is racing.” The finish is an all-out sprint, and in the Olympics — every spot counts, so these will be extra exciting from the first heat to the last.
The Riders’ race rankings are based on time and points. There are 24 competitors in the men’s and women’s events — Six riders compete in each of the four heats over three rounds, with the top 16 proceedings to the semi-final, the top eight competing in the final medal rounds.
Olympic BMX Racing — Who to watch
Though Team USA has been dominant, the Europeans, Australians, and Colombians are ready to take the gold this year. Connor Fields from the USA (who won gold at the Rio 2016 Games) will hope to continue his winning streak. It’s not that easy, though — Niek Kimmann and Twan Van Gendt from the Netherlands are looking good. Plus, Joris Daudet of France and Carlos Ramírez of Colombia are hoping to grab a medal — gold.
On the women’s side, Colombia’s Mariana Pajón is poised to take her third consecutive Olympic Games gold medal after her success at both London 2012 and Rio 2016. Top-ranked Alise Willoughby of the USA, 2018 World Champion Laura Smulders from the Netherlands, and Australia’s Saya Sakakibara all stand in the way as fierce competitors though — it will be an exciting watch.
Olympic BMX Freestyle — What is it?
New to the BMX party for the Tokyo Olympics 2021 is the BMX Freestyle discipline. This BMX riding discipline is more of the X-Games style that most Americans are familiar with and is judged by 60-second runs where riders execute a sequence of tricks on ramps, walls, box jumps, and spines throughout the skate style park. The judges then grade the riders on the difficulty, quality, style, and originality of their runs.
For the Tokyo Olympics, there will be only nine men and nine women riders competing with the host nation Japan taking one of those spots. Despite the event being one of the smallest at the Olympic Games, it will be fiercely contested among the world’s top riders.
The competition will take place at the same venue as the BMX racing but at a different section of the Ariake Urban Sports Park.
Olympic BMX Freestyle — Who to watch
The BMX freestyle discipline is admittedly a bit out of my scope, so I reached out to the big guns to offer their opinions. Michael Potoczny from The Wheel Mill and The Welcome Jam fame offered us his expert thoughts on who, and what to watch:
“I’m rooting for my boy Nick Bruce from Cleveland Ohio! But the Australian Logan Martin seems like the favorite right now. He’s the current world champ and his riding has been so consistent — yet huge.
For the women’s field, Hannah Robert’s of the USA has been dominating the last few years. She’s a multiple-time world champion. A lot of the women’s freestyle riders have been catching up to Hannah’s riding but I think she’s still going to have the upper hand and win this Olympics.
Hannah was on another level for years. It going to be a fun watch to see the women’s class and see everyone give her a run for her money. It’s going to be a really good contest.“
Olympic BMX Competition — How To Watch
Thursday, July 29
- Start Time: 10:00 JST
- Men’s BMX Quarterfinals
- Women’s BMX Quarterfinals
Friday, July 30
- Start Time: 10:00 JST
- Men’s BMX Semifinals & Finals
- Women’s BMX Semifinals & Finals
Olympic BMX Racing — Who To Watch from the USA
Olympic BMX Racing:
- Connor Fields (Henderson, NV.; Chase Bicycles/ Monster Energy)
- Corben Sharrah (Tucson, AZ.; Daylight Cycle Co.)
- Payton Ridenour (Pottstown; PA; Mongoose Bicycles)
- Felicia Stancil (Lake Villa, IL.; Factory Answer SSquared)
- Alise Willoughby (Saint Cloud, MN.; Team Toyota/ GT Bicycles)
How To Watch Olympic BMX Free Style
Saturday, July 31
- Start Time: 10:10 JST
- Men’s BMX Freestyle Seeding
- Women’s BMX Freestyle Seeding
Sunday, August 1
- Start Time: 10:10 JST
- Men’s BMX Freestyle Finals
- Women’s BMX Freestyle Finals
Olympic BMX Freestyle — Who To Watch from the USA
- Nick Bruce (Youngstown, OH)
- Justin Dowell (Virginia Beach, VA.)
- Perris Benegas (Reno, NV.)
- Hannah Roberts (Buchanan, MI.)
Complete List of BMX athletes and countries