If sporting traditionalists turned their noses up at BMX’s inclusion in the Olympic Games in Beijing, they were soon convinced of its merits after an action-packed, exhilarating competition at the Laoshan Moto Cross circuit.
The discipline proved itself to be one of the most popular in Beijing as blistering pace, combative racing and spectacular leaps combined to produce a terrific spectacle.Up for grabs were gold medals in the men’s and women’s races, conducted over preliminary, semi-final and final rounds.
The red-hot favourite going into the event was world champion Shanaze Reade of Great Britain. Reade’s chances looked doomed after she crashed in the first of three runs in the semi-final, when qualification is based on points for finishing positions. However she turned it round and reached the final when she finished second and first in the closing semi-final runs. Now it was down to one, decisive run which would decide the medals.
Although Reade was favourite, French mountain bike
legend Anne-Caroline Chausson
was proving her decision to come out of retirement to try and win an Olympic gold was justified.
The multiple mountain bike world champion executed a stunning pass after Reade had burst into the lead, and in trying to make up ground the Briton crashed spectacularly. Chausson held her nerve and the inaugural gold was hers with fellow Frenchwoman Laetitia Le Corguille in silver.
The men’s event developed into a three-way battle between the Americans Mike Day and Donny Robinson, and the Latvian cyclist Maris Strombergs
. A stunning three wins in his semi-final gave Strombergs the crucial opening barrier at the start gate and he was to use it to its full advantage. Strombergs burst clear and hard as Day and Robinson tried, they could not reel him in and the Latvian secured his country’s opening gold of the Beijing Olympic Games.