Comment | BMX Freestyle is an Olympic Sport for Tokyo 2020. Here's How Action Sports Are Making the Olympic Games A Whole Lot Better...
Action sports will offer a much needed alternative to watching 18 hours of synchronised swimming
The Olympics aren’t cool. They have been cool, from time to time. There have been cool moments that fall under the banner of being ‘in the Olympics’. But the Olympics are not themselves cool.
To go out on a limb and say what’s metaphorically written between the lines of that opening paragraph, the vast majority of the Olympics are boring as fuck.
And the International Olympic Committee know this. They know that the Olympics are boring as fuck, and they know that’s there’s only so many people they can convince with a quick-cutting highlight montage set to ‘Hall of Fame’ by will.i.am and The Script before people actually watch Dressage and realise it’s largely an international pissing contest competed by rich folk on horseback.
Or at least, the IOC know that a large amount of the younger demographic will see their competition like this. That’s why they introduced freestyle snowboarding and skiing into the Winter Olympics, why they brought skateboarding and climbing into the Summer Olympics – and why they’ve just announced BMX Freestyle Park will be an Olympic sport for Tokyo 2020 as well.
Currently there are too many sports that require a prior interest or understanding of the rules to enjoy, and far, far too many hours of coverage of sports which are, as previously mentioned, boring as fuck.
Take the modern pentathlon. Do you know what the modern pentathlon actually is? It’s a combination of fencing, swimming 200m, show jumping (on a fucking horse no less), pistol shooting, and completing a 3200m cross-country run. It sounds like a sports day for Tories. Seriously, what connects those five activities? Get your butler to send your answers in on a postcard. The only thing we can think of is that each of the disciplines is about as exciting as watching Theresa May wade slowly through a field of wheat, giggling naughtily as she goes. When we searched for images of fencing, literal fences came up before the sport fencing. We're talking about a sport here that is less interesting than actual fences.
Golf is not a good watch. Archery, while generally badass, is not a good watch. Shooting and swashbuckling should be left in the pages of Alexandre Dumas. We’ve got a lot of time for canoe slalom, cycling, boxing, the 100m sprint (fuck, even the 200m sprint), gymnastics, and even that one that Jessica Ennis does.
And there are a lot of other sports that are good for a minute or two as well, but when one judo heat becomes four and a half hours of continuous coverage we’re going to be switching over to Bargain Hunt.
Even swimming is shite.
“No", you say, “Swimming is one of the most popular Olympic sports. We love swimming".
Do you though?
DO YOU LOVE SWIMMING?
Did you know that there are 34 swimming events in the current Olympic swimming programme? Do you love all of them? Do you love all of them? Do you even know which disciplines your favourite athletes compete in?
We don’t doubt that you enjoy watching the final of the 50-metre freestyle but how about you sit down and watch all 950 athletes compete in their individual heats and however many other rounds in each of these 34 events, and then come back, look us in the eye, and tell us that it wasn’t boring as fuck.
God forbid we delve into synchronised swimming – a sport capable of convincing even the soberest mind around that they’ve accidentally just dropped acid and wondered into an aqua-fit class in their local gym.
The Olympics still carries a certain aura of excitement and legacy. The quality of the coverage is outstanding, the public interest is huge and the romanticism is inimitable – but so much of that fervour these days is lost when people actually tune in to watch the sports.
People are used to seeing hardened athletes competing in sports they don’t fully understand and giving quotes afterwards that are pretty much identical across the board. Boring chat from Olympic athletes is mind-numbingly par for the course (particularly in golf).
What freestyle BMX offers is something that’s already been proven by freestyle snow sports and BMX racing in the Olympics to entice. It offers fast-paced danger and excitement that can grip you from the get-go even if you’ve never seen the sport before and don’t have a clue what’s going on.
Core fans of the sports will know this well. Whenever a mainstream media outlet stumbles across a competitive race run from BMX or downhill mountain biking and sticks it online it ends up getting 25 million views and the world dubs it insanity. Often it’s actually a fifth place and fairly standard stuff.
Freestyle BMX, like surfing, skateboarding and rock climbing, will be accessible for Olympic fans regardless of age or sporting preference. There’s nothing that grips the viewer quite like an athlete with an incredibly specific, incredible skill-set who could horribly wipe out at any moment – particularly when they get to the end of the run and get weird in front of the cameras, ala Swedish freeskier and reggae-enthusiast Henrik Harlaut in Sochi 2014 Olympics. Harlaut became a viral sensation after completing half his run with his trousers down before shouting “Wu-Tang is for the children" down the lens of the camera. You wouldn’t get that in the modern pentathlon.
It’s a novelty for the everyday viewer, and for some of the athletes the contest will of course be a novelty as well. Whilst highly prestigious in BMX racing, an Olympic sport since 2008, Team GB star Liam Phillips maintains "the Olympics doesn't have the same prestige in my mind as the rainbow jersey [awarded for winning the World Championships]".
Similarly, the multi-discipline climbing category will consist of three different climbing disciplines and be unique to the Olympics. British bouldering sensation Shauna Coxsey admitted: "it would be a big transformation for me. It’s not just a case of deciding whether to compete, it’s the decision of whether to take up two new sports and train full-time on top of what I’m already doing."
The freestyle BMX and skateboarding events would presumably follow standard contest format. They won’t be for everyone in the sport, and will undoubtedly attract some criticism from core circles, but the guys who do ride will reach unthinkable audiences and have the chance to claim one of the most prestigious prizes in world sport.
How much exposure the Olympics can really offer the sports, we can only wait and see. After skateboarding was announced for Tokyo 2020 Dr. Ian Borden, an authority on global skateboarding, told us of his fears that the money would not drip directly back into the sport.
“The circuit of capital won’t be so evident," he said. “Where will the money from international TV rights go? Will that flow back into skating? Skaters will need to be directly involved in the organisation of the event and not just leaving it to the rollerskate federation."
A similar question could be asked for freestyle BMX, though presumably mainstream sponsors would be easier to attract. Athletes would also be able to join national set ups such as Team GB and reap the benefits of extra funding.
Whatever happens, it should make for a hell of a watch, if not for the core fans then at least for the general public.
3.6 billion people, approximately half of the population of planet Earth, caught at least one minute of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games on TV. The BBC’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics was watched by 90% of the population of the UK.
87% of people who watch the Olympics will apparently watch some form of swimming. Millions even watched the synchronised swimming – the synchronised swimming! – which as we’ve already covered, is more of a drug trip than a sport.
With this in mind we struggle to see how freestyle BMX could possibly fail to entrance its viewers.