BMX is inspiring a generation, fans say
LONDON - 'Inspire a generation', the London 2012 slogan says, and BMX is the perfect sport to do that, whatever scornful purists might say about the high-octane competition.
Humps and bumps, thrills and spills: the formula is perfect for kids who clearly think the adrenalin-pumped riders are the epitome of cool.
The riders themselves feel the same way. They argue that the Olympics, which introduced BMX - bike motocross - at Beijing in 2008, need to attract a younger crowd and this fast, frenetic and fun sport is a great way of pulling them in.
The strategy is working. The crowd in the 6,000-seater, purpose-built London stadium are among the youngest at London 2012. Families are everywhere, the children wrapped in Union flags, their faces covered in red-white-and-blue stickers.
Josh Barwick, 11, and his 13-year-old brother Joel were typical fans. Both have BMX bikes: stubby, single-gear, single- brake machines like the ones that hurtle up and over the track from a dizzying drop at the start.
"It's the only event at the Olympics that we got tickets for. I have never been to BMX before," said Joel. "It's one of the best sports for kids of our age," added Josh.
Lewis Barrett-Wilson, 13, said "With the Olympics in Britain, it's great to come along. Maybe it will inspire me."
Liz Barrett had her three young daughters in tow. "We have been watching the cycling on TV. It has definitely inspired them. This is our first time at BMX and I think it deserves to be in the Olympics," she said.
The 40-second dash from high ramp down to the finish line via a succession of twists, turns and leaps is exhilarating to watch. Traditionalists, avid fans of stamina-sapping marathons such as the Tour de France or brief bursts of thrilling power in the velodrome sprints, tend to mock the cult sport.
Nick Post, 29, vehemently disagrees but then he would do - he is in London, bedecked in Stars and Stripes, to cheer on his sister Alise.
Their father runs a BMX track back home in Minnesota. "It's a real energy sport," he said. "It's more dangerous than cycling but that's the fun of it. It deserves to be in the Games. I tell my sister to just do it."
After her first spin round the fast and challenging track, Alise Post said: "BMX was brought into the Olympics to attract a younger generation so hopefully everyone will get on board. Who hasn't ridden a BMX bike as a kid? We say that you can take it to a whole new level, keep doing it as an adult and be a kid forever."
British rider Liam Phillips was bowled over by the roar of the home crowd. "Six thousand people have paid to watch me and this sport that I have been doing since I was five years old," he said. "That is mind-blowing."
No prizes for guessing the song that blasts out to accompany the riders at the Olympic Park - 'Bicycle Race' by Queen. (Editing by Clare Fallon)