The Dirtbag Chronicles: Olympic Cyclocross, the Pipe Dream(?)

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Cyclocross Magazine introduces a new semi-weekly op-ed column called “The Dirtbag,” an opinionated series by Cyclocross Magazine contributor Brooke Hoyer. Hoyer previously wrote “The Highs and Lows of Bottom Bracket Heights”  for Issue 4, and we’re psyched to have him back. He describes his column as one “focused on equipment choice that is based on value, durability, and effectiveness.” While many of us might drool over the latest 14 pound carbon Di2 and disc brake-equipped cyclocross bike, we simply can’t afford such a dream machine, and Hoyer’s columns just might make us feel better about our current equipment.

The Dirtbag, Entry #3

It’s the quadrennial running of the Summer Olympic games and that gets cyclocross fans thinking about the epic injustice of ’cross’s exclusion from the Games. Rabid fans want ’cross included in the games and have filled Internet forums with impassioned pleas and even started an online petition. In other words, they haven’t done jack except bitch about it. Personally, I can take or leave cyclocross Olympic inclusion, but I do have some helpful hints about how to go about it.

Winter or Summer? Since the ’cross season spans the Fall and Winter, most of the chatter has been about making it a part of the Winter Olympics. It is *much* easier to get a sport added to the Winter Games since the Summer Games is chock full of sports, disciplines, and athletes. The IOC has capped the Summer Games at 28 sports, 300 events, and 10k athletes. There is no such limit for the Winter Games; however, there is that pesky rule that the sport must be contested on snow or ice.

’Cross Olympic inclusion hinges on either convincing the IOC that it belongs in the Winter Games or finding some event from the Summer Games to replace with cyclocross. Changing the long standing requirement of snow or ice is going to be nigh impossible. There was talk about that restriction being lifted around about 2010 in Vancouver, but the IOC continued in their archaic ways. How are you going to pitch an Winter Olympics with a bike race grafted on? Not an easy sell. Cyclocross aficionados are just going to have to deal with the fact that it belongs in the Summer Games and risk a good chance of exceptionally good weather.

The Summer Games already hosts at least several sports that are usually contested in the Winter including basketball and track (cycling). Summer Games inclusion is also bolstered because cycling is already one of the 28 approved sports. The tricky bit is deciding which one of the 300 events to cut out. Trackies are already bristling about the number of their events that have been cut over the last few Games and it would be bad form to cannibalize.

The obvious event to cut is the modern pentathlon. Sure, it was created by the founder of the modern Olympic Games with inspiration from the ancient pentathlon. But really, do any of you know what it is? It’s an event based on the skills a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines might be required to have. WTF? It consists of sword fighting, shooting, swimming, running, and equestrian show jumping. Honestly, if we could add swords and guns to cyclocross races, the swap would almost be one-to-one.

The two most difficult challenges for inclusion are prevalence (number of nations participating) and governing body lobbying. Taking a look at the start lists for Koksjide, we see that 20 and 17 nations participated in the men’s and women’s races respectively. Cyclocross needs more people like Hakan Yildirim and Genevieve Whitson – racers from outside of northern Europe and the US. Another good sign is how cyclocross is growing in Japan. [See Cyclocross Magazine Issue 17.] Probably the best hope for ’cross would be for China to start racing and push the IOC for inclusion.

Lastly, the UCI would have to request and lobby for ’cross to be including in either the Summer or Winter Games. Sadly, this is currently the least likely requirement to be fulfilled. The UCI knows that if it wants a new event added to the schedule, it is going to have to give up one. While the modern pentathlon (19th century = modern?!) is an easy target for comedy, the reality of Olympic politics is that removing historical events with strong connections to the IOC is challenging. So the first order of business is to convince the UCI that ’cross belongs in the Games more than one of the track events. Seems unlikely. Look at how long it took to convince them that disc brakes were okay for cyclocross racing.

Still want ’cross in the Games? First, convince the UCI to ax a track event (Maybe team sprint? Isn’t there already a pursuit race?). Second, swallow hard and accept that it goes in the Summer Games. Third, build more participation in the rest of the world (China/Asia, South America seem likely candidates). Simple as 1-2-3.

 

 

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16 comments
smipypr
smipypr

Just saw an interesting(? not really) piece from bleacherreport.com in yahoo. The piece proposed the following sports for summer Olympics: softball(to return after a hiatus); beach soccer; golf(  regular version in for '16) pentathlon(!)- distance, accuracy, chipping, putting at various distances; futsal - beach soccer, indoors on a hard court; mixed martial arts; bowling; cricket; racquetball and squash; surfing, and skateboarding. Yikes. The Olympics, summer and winter, are turning into a kind of county fair. With each Olympics session now costing in the billions, adding sports such as the ones listed, as well as keeping skeleton, luge, mogul skiing, trick skiing, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming/diving, the Olympics have become a bloated combination of traditional speed and strength sports, combined into a ridiculous melange of shopping mall / parking lot / X games/ double dare ya events. Combine that with rampant corruption, both during events, and in setting up host cities/venues, and it becomes clear that the Olympics will either collapse of their own weight, or expand to fit the time and money allotted to them. I vote for collapse. Virtually every sport in the Olympics, as well as many others, already have world championships every year. with the admission of professionals, the Olympics are no longer any different from any other endeavor. Except in the number of ridiculous commercials and endorsements; and the tedious, jingoistic, and fake-sincere reportage. Up close, and personal? Not only a grammatical error, but an error of misplaced emphasis on the fallacy sport as a uniting force. Sorry. Had to spit it all out.

DanKeeshan
DanKeeshan

@cyclocross i'll go out on a limb...drop the road race to make room for CX

smipypr
smipypr

Be careful what you wish for.  Triathlon was added to the Summer Olympics, after several years of effort. The distance entered was a 1.5 K swim, 40K bike, and a 10K run. Drafting is allowed on the bike leg, which is great for TV, but silly for triathlon. With cyclocross moved to the Summer Olympics, there would be competition, and possibly combined-entering, with mountain biking. Not bad at first look, but to be honest, 'cross is a fall/winter/spring sport. While several "glamor" sports - snowboard, mogul skiing, and trick skiing, have been added to the Winter Games, these came in with big money sponsorships. Can cyclocross get an event in edgewise? 'Crossers may want to consider whether they need the Olympics, because the Olympics are going to question whether they need cyclocross. And remember, the Olympics are not about competition in sport. The Olympics are about corporate control of sport.

thebonebell
thebonebell

@cyclocross "Dirtbag Chronicles" - we likey!

JoshVsLymphoma
JoshVsLymphoma

I vote for cutting sports that require a judge to assign a score, personally. 

JoshVsLymphoma
JoshVsLymphoma

 @smipypr So, despite all my comments, I've probably only watched about 1 hour -cumulatively - of olympics in about 12 years summer & winter.  I think you made a good point that Cx doesn't need the olympics - and I don't particularly care whether cyclocross is in or out.  It is noteworthy how the olympics have changed track cycling somewhat - but track needs it far more than Cx.

BrookeHoyer
BrookeHoyer

Yeah, not agreeing with you on that one. Notwithstanding that those judged events are incredibly athletic and I think largely worthy of Olympic inclusion, taking the judging out of things takes you down a slippery slope. Are out ready to rule out boxing and wrestling? Shoot, you can even start ruling out some of the track and field throwing events too. And what about cycling judges relegating riders for rule infractions. So let's not be so smug about judging.

BrookeHoyer
BrookeHoyer

 @JoshVsLymphoma  @smipypr Need is such a loaded word. I think the argument is that if cross was an Olympic sport, domestic cross racers would get more support from USAC. Also, the added exposure on network TV (CX is usually a good TV cycling sport -- an hour with lots of racing) could potentially grow the sport at an elite level with the addition of sponsor money.

 

CX in the US has been great at grass roots development. Racer participation is higher in absolute numbers than any other nation. But that hasn't translated into international success other than Compton and a few glimmers in the other races.

 

Right now USAC doesn't support elite cross because it's not an Olympic sport. More USAC and sponsor $$ *might* make a difference. The Olympics gets both of those.

 

And as far as sports without deep pockets getting in? Curling. Their governing body pushed hard. Lobbying won that fight.

JoshVsLymphoma
JoshVsLymphoma

 @BrookeHoyer Are you mistaking judging and officiating?  A reasonable litmus test would be are there two (or more) competitors (or teams) in direct competition with each other and is the "judging" a dichotomous yes/no or a subjective score that requires adding and subtracting from an arbitrary standard?

 

In other words, if you take 100 random lay people or casual fans off the street, are 95 of them going to agree whether or not a soccer player was off-sides or a sprinter left or entered the sprinters lane?  Will they all make very similar measurements on how far a shot was put?    To your point, could they come to consensus on whether a wrestler's shoulders were pinned down, or would we get 100 possible different answers?

 

Take those same 100 folks and have them assign a score to a pummel horse or figure skating routine or snowboarding.  In which scenario do you think you'll have more agreement from the objective observers?  Which are you more likely to hear - the judge from Russia gave the lowest score to the German's routine, or the judge from Spain gave the French soccer player an 8.5 on the bicycle kick goal because he didn't stick the dismount?  

 

If there is a slippery slope, we're already halfway down it.  By the benchmark of "incredibly athletic" and "requires a judge" - Dancing with the Stars is a logical activity "worthy of Olympic inclusion," right?  Certainly a hip-hop or salsa dance is far more athletic than 10m air rifle (or some track and field throwing events).  It would be an awkward argument to say gymnastics and figure skating and synchro swim and even diving (until we start diving for distance or depth) all have less in common with DWTS than they do with track and field or soccer.... or cycling.

JoshVsLymphoma
JoshVsLymphoma

 @smipypr  @BrookeHoyer What is the rule regarding every sport needing a women's component?  Something similar (like baseball / softball) or more Title IX-ish, where if you add a men's sport, you can add some unrelated women's sport?

 

I agree - football is absurd.  I was shocked at the number of cited countries playing it.  If baseball couldn't cut it, and the WBC is somewhere between arguable failure and marginal success, difficult to imagine NFL style football.  $0.02   

 

-But, until I saw those numbers on football, it reminded me of curling in that one country really seems to "own" it.  (or, maybe I'm ignorant of both!)

smipypr
smipypr

 @BrookeHoyer  @JoshVsLymphoma So... The possibility of adding more commercially viable sports enters the discussion on a regular basis. What constitutes an "Olympic" sport? American football is certainly not. Team handball? Rhythmic gymnastics & synchronized swimming? Synchronized diving? Ice dancing? Luge & skeleton? A telling reason for splitting the Olympiads to staggered years was the IOC wanted more control over revenue. The Olympics, long ago, ceased to represent athletics and (amateur) athletes. While CX would be a fine addition to the winter games, as CX is huge in Europe and the US, and growing in Japan, what has the Olympics done for mountain biking? Curling was used as an example of national lobbying, but how many curlers are doing Pepsi or lite beer commercials? (outside of Canada) The IOC isn't concerned so much about the "integrity" of sport; the IOC's main focus has been money, and control.  By putting on a dog & pony show regarding doping, the IOC talks a good game, but the doping bureaucracy  now rivals the IOC bureaucracy in size, scope, and money.

BrookeHoyer
BrookeHoyer

 @JoshVsLymphoma  @smipypr That would be a travesty. I think they will have trouble with the requirement to have a women's component. I know that there are women's semi-pro teams in the US but I doubt there is international participation. So I hope that gets shot down in flames.

JoshVsLymphoma
JoshVsLymphoma

 @BrookeHoyer Fair enough on the boxing and wrestling (I watch neither) - I just cannot get comfortable with "judge scored" events, which is why I simply cannot watch.

 

I guess my problem, in the simplest form, is that a judge deciding the final outcome is the in-general rule and only in rare exceptions will a competitor do something to take themselves out of the running.  After watching the Gold and 4th place gymnastics finisher, can you honestly say the gold was better?  Or rather, would you have picked that person as "the best" before seeing any sort of score?

 

In contrast, an official/umpire/referee deciding a final outcome is the exception.  Obviously every baseball/football/soccer/basketball fan will recall a case where a game changed on a blown call - but in general, the fastest, strongest, smartest, whatever will be obvious - and you can see the score or your competitors' speed and work accordingly.

BrookeHoyer
BrookeHoyer

 @JoshVsLymphoma Your example isn't particularly good. In the case of soccer off-sides or sprinters taking the sprint lane, those lay people or casual fans will still need to be trained (might be fairly simple) in how to identify those events. In the case of boxing or wrestling, the officials/judges will have to have an even higher degree of training to recognize scoring.

 

I like the new scoring for judged events that accounts for difficulty and I think those events are scored consistently.

 

I'll leave you with two examples from this Olympics: 1) A boxing referee was removed from the Olympics for declaring Azerbaijan's Magomed Abdulhamidov winner over Satoshi Shimizu from Japan despite being knocked down 6 times in the final round (it was overruled the next day); and 2) British track cyclist Philip Hindes intentionally crashed at the beginning of the team sprint in order to get a restart -- when his original start wasn't good enough. As I understand it, the officials could have ruled the crash intentional and denied the restart. The British won gold. 

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