BMX: 'Rebel' sport out of its cage

By David Leggat

Sick moves, big air and a bloke called Kamikazi - welcome to BMX racing, the latest addition to the Olympic Games family.

Yesterday it blasted its way into the Games at the Laoshan cycling complex like a gust of fresh air - and that's saying something in Beijing.

There will be stuffed shirts within the International Olympic Committee who will view BMX as an adult would a rebellious teenager.

If they're smart, the IOC will embrace this sport as a indulgent parent would a mischievous child, because it's got plenty to offer.

And New Zealand had a strong presence, with world No 1 Sarah Walker qualifying 4th for today's semifinals after a neat and tidy performance in a time trial format.

Cambridge's Marc Willers, ranked No 5 going into the event, is also into the semifinals after comfortably advancing from his quarter-final grouping.

The sport's appeal lies in its speed, in both senses.

The leading men clocked times around 36s for a run. The quickest woman, French competitor Anne-Caroline Chausson, put up 36.660s - the women race a shorter course than the men - to be fastest qualifier for the semifinals.

Kawerau's Walker had a best time on the twisting, humpy course of 37.187s.

But it's also fast in that the event doesn't drag. No sooner has one race finished than the next is under way within a minute.

The New Zealand coach Ken Cools was delighted with Walker getting inside the top five for the semifinals and he likes Willers' form too.

"They're not very strong time triallists. They are racers through and through," the big Canadian said.

"So when they have other people next to them on the track they both find another gear."

A large part of BMX's appeal are the crashes. There were plenty yesterday as riders sought the quickest route from point A to point B.

The first prang was to one of the women's gold medal favourites, Britain's Shanaze Reade. However the scoring system means the quicker of the riders' two runs goes into the semifinal calculations. She bounced back to be second fastest overall.

Walker's pre-Games prediction was that the medals would be decided between Chausson, Reade and another French rider, Laetitia Le Corguille. Nothing happened yesterday to change that view.

The language is different. A "sick move" is actually a top manoeuvre; "big air" means getting high off the ground. Cools pointed out while that's great when you're riding for fun, it's bad in a race when ideally riders want to be on the ground as much as possible.

This is a sport requiring a PA announcer/commentator with pizzazz. BMX has a doozy, an enormous American perched precariously on a plastic seat. With a physique more suited to big time eating - standing up, he won't have seen his knees for some years - all he lacked as he ripped into his work on the microphone was a six-pack and a couple of hot dogs.

He threatens to become one of the stars of the event.

And personalities on the track? Look no further than Kamikazi.

He was called Jamie Hildebrandt until a few weeks ago when he changed his name by deed poll.

He's a Queensland boilermaker who has broken his collarbone five times, and his right elbow at last year's Olympic test event. His motto: Dare to be different.

Which could double as the logo for a sport which began Olympic life with a full-throated roar yesterday.

- NZ Herald

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