• Mar. May 21st, 2024

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BMX Freestyle at the Olympic Qualifier Series: Everything you need to know

#BMX #Freestyle #Olympic #Qualifier #Series

A BMX Freestyle run may be the most action-packed minute at the Olympic Games: It’s 60 seconds packed with spins, flips, tail whips, and riders flying in the air across ramps, jumps, rails, and more.

Riders have been doing these tricks since the 1980s, but at Paris 2024, the event will be staged for the first time in front of a live Olympic Games crowd. And before that, the event will be featured at the Olympic Qualifier Series, to be held this May in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China, and in June in Budapest, Hungary.

From tail whips to bar spins to hip jumps to “pumping”, here’s everything you need to know to understand and enjoy one of the Olympics’ newest, most exciting sports, with expert insight from USA BMX Freestyle National Team coach Ryan Nyquist and 2020 Olympian—and 2024 hopeful—Nick Bruce of Team USA.

  • How to qualify for BMX Freestyle for Paris 2024
  • These athletes will compete in BMX Freestyle at the Olympic Qualifier Series

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What is BMX Freestyle?

BMX is short for “bicycle motocross”. This refers to a type of race that is run over dirt and jumps, like a motorcycle motocross race. But in BMX, the bike has no motor: Bicycles with small wheels and no gears are used. According to the rulebook of the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the international cycling body that governs the sport, BMX bikes must have flat pedals and wheels that do not exceed 22.5 inches (57cm) in diameter when the tires are inflated.

In BMX Freestyle competitions, the same bikes are used, but not for racing. Instead, it is a judged competition where athletes perform tricks. In the Olympics, BMX Freestyle contests are held in a “park” setting, where rams, jumps, rails, and steps are set up for riders to jump, spin, flip, and fly from.

During each 60-second “run” through this park, riders perform a routine of tricks for a panel of judges to score on a scale of 0.00-99.99.

What obstacles and jumps are included in the BMX Freestyle park course?

It’s different at each competition, which is one of the biggest challenges about this sport, Nyquist says.

That’s because riders aren’t just “freestyling”, despite the event’s name. Each rider has a plan for how they’ll tackle the course, putting together a routine that ties together jumps, flips, spins, and other tricks as they traverse around the course. With the placement of the ramps changing in each competition, that plan has to change each time.

In other sports with routines, like figure skating, “you always have that same surface—flat ice,” he says. “But our ramps shuffle and move. The course changes. Sometimes a ramp that was there last time has been completely taken out, and they’ve put in a new one.”

Courses vary in size and number of obstacles. According to the UCI, the course should be a square or rectangle with at least three obstacles in the center, and lined with obstacles around the outside. The total course size can vary, but at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, for example, the course was 22m wide by 40m long (72ft by 131ft). For American football fans, this is around the size of the “red zone” on a football field between the 20-yard line and the end zone.

Some of the common obstacles that can be found on these courses include:

  • Quarter Pipe: This ramp is shaped like one-fourth of a round pipe. These may be placed against a higher wall along the edges of the course, banking up to a wall, or there may be a flat surface at the top of the quarter pipe. On beginner courses, these ramps are 1.2 to 1.8 metres (4-6 feet) tall.
  • Spine Ramp: This is made by putting two quarter pipes back to back, creating a narrow spike—or “spine”—where the two ramps meet.
  • Jump Box: Unlike a spine ramp*,* this box has uneven sides—the “jump” side is steeper than the landing side, making it easier for a rider to land on the other side and continue riding smoothly.
  • Hip Jump: This obstacle is formed by linking two quarter pipes at an angle, instead of back to back like on a spine ramp.
  • Rails: Metal rails may line the ramps or exist on their own, like a stair rail or a rail that’s perpendicular to the ground. These rails can be used by riders to grind, or slide, across or down. They may also ride on the rail with either their front or back wheel.

How do riders plan their runs if obstacles change?

A few weeks before a competition, riders receive a map of the course, so they can start to plan the tricks they’d like to do, and put together a routine. But the real planning, Nyquist says, can’t really start until you’ve reached the course.

Even if a rider has mapped out a run they’d like to do—flipping over one ramp in the centre before riding over to another ramp along the right side, where they plan to do a spinning flip—the course may not feel in reality the way they’d imagined on paper.

“A lot of factors start to present themselves when you actually get on the course and ride it. Things don’t always line up exactly the way you thought when you looked at the drawing: The speed’s not there, or the height’s not there,” he says.

The riders try to adjust to these differences between the drawing and reality in practice. But practice time is limited, and it’s crowded. At competitions similar to the Olympics, like the World Cup, riders get to practice the course three times for one hour at each session. But they’re not alone. There can be 20 other riders on the course at the same time, so the athletes can’t run through their whole routine in a clean sweep.

“The practice time is chaotic. It’s hectic,” Nyquist says. This crowded practice field, combined with the shifting courses, makes the changing obstacles at each competition add to the challenge of putting together a great run.

How does BMX Freestyle competition work?

For each run, riders have 60 seconds to perform their best tricks. A panel of judges award the run a score between 0.00 and 99.99 points based on “overall impression” (more on that below). Riders do two runs of 60 seconds each, with 8-15 minutes of rest between runs, depending on the number of riders.

In Olympic competition, the competition has two rounds: A qualification round, and a final round.

In the qualifying rounds, a rider’s scores from both 60-second runs are averaged together, and that average score is used for seeding. In the final round, riders still do two runs, but only their best score counts—the other run is thrown out. This is usually how scoring is done at most BMX Freestyle competitions.

Bruce says that riders’ strategy about how to approach the two runs can differ. Some athletes go all out on their first run, hoping to land their biggest, most impressive tricks. Then, if they falter, they’ve got another chance to get it right. That, Bruce says, is his approach.

Other riders, like 2020 gold medallist Logan Martin, start with a “safety run,” Bruce says. “In his first run, he always puts a solid score down. And then it seems like he just amps it up a little bit in his next run, trying to bump his score up.”

How do judges decide the score?

Judges are scoring each run on “overall impression,” which is a bit of a squishy concept, Nyquist says. But the UCI rulebook says this can include some of the following criteria:

  • Difficulty: This includes the difficulty of individual tricks, as well as their placement and combinations.
  • Amplitude: This just means height, indicating how high the riders flew on jumps.
  • Flow: It’s important to do amazing tricks, but also to tie them together into a seamless run, Nyquist says. Riders should have one trick flow into the next move.
  • Variety of tricks
  • Landings: This isn’t just about landing, but landing smoothly, Nyquist says. When a rider lands effortlessly, they may actually pick up speed and not need to pedal, which is called “pumping”.
  • Risk factor
  • Use of the course: Riders can’t just hang out on one jump for 60 seconds. Using more of the course and more obstacles is key to a high score.

What does a high-scoring run look like? How many tricks will a rider do?

Each rider has an arsenal of big, show-stopping tricks they’ve developed over months and years of practice, and they want to showcase as many as possible in each run, Bruce says. But they’ve only got 60 seconds to do so. In an ideal run, he says, a rider might be able to link eight or 10 of these “heavy” tricks. More often, though, he says, the rider will only be able to do five or six of their absolute best tricks. The tricks that come in between, he says, are slightly less difficult “filler” tricks.

These moves, Bruce says, aren’t easy, but they don’t fly as high or look as “gnarly”. Instead, these moves are usually more technical, and allow the rider to use more of the course—scoring points for “use of the course”—and save energy for big, “heavy” tricks that take more strength, speed, and power.

Flowing from one trick to the next is also important to a high-scoring run, Nyquist says. You can often tell how smoothly a rider’s run is going by watching their landings, he says: When riders are landing tricks at a high speed without slamming down onto their handlebars, they’re able to maintain speed and flow into the next trick. Sometimes, he says, they won’t even need to pedal, using the momentum from one jump to flow into the next. This is called “pumping“, and helps a high-scoring run look effortless.

As riders flow from one trick to the next, they want to build to big, impactful moments that are punctuated by their best tricks, Bruce says. In an ideal run, he says, there might be three peaks of excitement: A high-difficulty early trick that gets the crowd excited, a peak trick or series in the middle of the run, and finally a powerful finishing trick that puts an exclamation point on the minute.

How do riders feel after a run?

Tired! Even though they only ride for 60 seconds, it’s an all-out minute, with riders using their legs to pump the pedals, their arms and back muscles to pull themselves up and flip and spin their bodies and bikes, and their hands, forearms, and shoulders to soften the blows of big landings, Nyquist says.

After the first run of a competition, Bruce says, his body feels like it “awakens”. Everything’s firing on all cylinders, he says. He’ll then have between 8 and 15 minutes to rest before his next run.

When that second, final run is finished, he says, “my legs are completely jello. My quads are completely firing. Sometimes my arms are a little numb. You just feel completely wiped out.”

That exhausted feeling, though, he says, is positive: “That’s when you know you did a good run: You put everything into it, landed everything, and you physically can’t do anything else.”

What are some of the tricks BMX Freestyle riders do?

To the casual viewer, seeing a BMX rider perform a backflip looks impressive and dangerous … but it’s actually a fairly easy trick for an experienced rider, Nyquist says. To amp up the difficulty, riders in competitions like the Olympics take basic tricks like this and use them as elements, mixing flips and spins to create new, never-before-seen combinations. Some of the basic tricks they use as elements include:

  • Spins: Riders may perform a 360 spin, spinning the whole way around, or performing multiple spins—a 720, which is two spins, or 1080, which is three.
  • Flips: Riders do much more than single backflips: They can perform double backlflips, and even front flips, like this one by British rider Charlotte Worthington.
  • Bar spins: While performing another flying element, a rider may spin their handlebars around once, or multiple times.
  • Tailwhips: In a tailwhip, the rider holds the handlebars while removing their feet from the pedals spinning the frame of the bike out from under them, eventually winding up with it back under their butt and legs. Some tricks involve multiple tailwhips.
  • Wheelies: Athletes may ride on the front or the back wheel, with the other wheel in the air.

The more elements combined together, the more difficult the trick can be. Bruce, for example, was the first in the sport to do a “flair windshield wiper”, where he performed a 180-degree flair jump while whipping the bike’s tail in one direction, then back in the other direction (like a windshield wiper) before landing.

Big tricks like these can take months or years to develop, Nyquist says. Or they might come easily, even if they’re difficult. The Team USA coach and 16-time X Games medallist says that he’s had some tricks come together in a single practice session. Others, he says, were failures for years before suddenly clicking.

How long has BMX Freestyle been an Olympic sport?

BMX Freestyle debuted at the Tokyo 2020 Games. On the men’s side, Australian rider Logan Martin took home the gold, while Daniel Dhers of Venezuela and Declan Brooks of Great Britain won the silver and bronze, respectively. GB rider Charlotte Worthington won gold in the women’s competition, with Hannah Roberts of the USA and Nikita Ducarroz of Switzerland bringing home silver and bronze.

But 2024’s competition in Paris will have something that the Tokyo BMX Freestyle event didn’t: fans. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Tokyo competition was held without spectators. And while that may not be a huge deal in an ultra-fast race where competitors zip by fans along the sidelines, spectators who cheer for high-flying tricks help athletes perform their best, says Nick Bruce.

“It was a little weird, mentally. I think it made it harder to snap into competition mode,” he says. While he was excited and honoured to compete in the Olympics in Tokyo, he thinks that the Paris experience will be even better—especially since French crowds love this sport. “We compete in Montpellier every year, and it’s one of the biggest crowds we get to compete in front of. Our sport is really receptive in European culture, and that makes it that much more exciting to do an actual Olympic Games here.”

Another first for 2024 will be the Olympic Qualifier Series. At two events—one in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China, in May, and another in Budapest, Hungary, in June—athletes will compete for spots in the Paris Games.

How do BMX Freestyle athletes qualify for the Olympics?

Twenty-four riders (12 men and 12 women) will compete in Paris. As the host country, France receives one quota spot for each gender. So 22 quota spots have been available during qualifying.

The qualifying period began on 1 November 2022 and will wrap up on 23 June 2024. Two athletes from each gender obtained qualifying quota spots at the 2022 Urban Cycling Championships. Three more athletes from each gender secured Olympic quota at the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships.

At the Olympic Qualifier Series, to be held this May and June in Shanghai and Budapest, six athletes from each gender will obtain quotas for Paris.

Learn more about the qualifying process in this article.

  • Qualification and points system unveiled for Olympic Qualifier Series

As National Olympic Committees have the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective teams at the Olympic Games, athletes’ participation at Paris 2024 depends on their NOC selecting them to represent their delegation.

Click here to see the official qualification system for each sport.

BMX Freestyle athletes to watch

Men

  • Logan Martin, Australia: Bruce enjoys watching the 2020 Olympic men’s champion because “he’s so smooth and calculated,” the Team USA rider says.
  • Jose Torres, Argentina: Nicknamed “Maligno”, Torres is a high flier. “He goes three or four feet higher than everybody else on everything he does,” Nyquist says. “His amplitude is through the roof, which makes him really fun to watch.”
  • Marcus Christopher, USA: Nick Bruce trains with this 21-year-old from Ohio who will compete in the Olympic Qualifier Series. “He’s like a pitbull. He’s crazy,” Nyquist says. “He’s got some really, really high level tricks that nobody else does.”
  • Nick Bruce, USA: Bruce was injured at the 2020 Games, but is healthy going into the Olympic Qualifier Series. At 31, he’s one of the older riders in the competition, but that may contribute to what Nyquist sees: “He’s a strong, strong guy,” the Team USA coach says. “When you watch him ride, you can see that he’s a powerhouse. He can manipulate the bike. He’s able to maintain speed. And he just kills it.”

Women

  • Hannah Roberts, USA: The silver medallist in Tokyo, Team USA’s Roberts won the 2022 Urban Cycling World Championship and the 2023 UCI World Championship in this event. Bruce says that she’s “so dialled in. She has really big tricks, and really good filler tricks … she’s just waves ahead of the other women.”
    “When she does something for the first time, it’s typically the first time a woman has done that on a bike—ever,” adds Nyquist.
  • Perris Benegas, USA: Another 2020 Olympian, Benegas “can get on the course and dissect it instantly,” says Nyquist. Once she does, the 28-year old “goes massively, massively huge. She’s riding really fast and really strong,” making her a blast to watch.
  • Team China: Both Bruce and Nyquist say that the Chinese women’s team is a strong group. At the 2023 UCI World Championships, Chinese women Sun Sibei and Zhou Huimin placed second and third behind Roberts.

When can I watch BMX Freestyle at the Paris Olympics?

Qualifying rounds for both the men’s and women’s competitions will be held on 30 July at the Paris Games. The final rounds will be held on 31 July.

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