Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

What is the history of cross country mountain biking? When did cross country mountain biking Olympics first come to be featured in the Games?

We’ve got all the answers you’ll looking for, from start to finish. Have a read below to become an absolute expert in under five minutes.

A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking | The Very Beginning

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Before we get into the history of cross country mountain biking in the Olympics, it’s good to know a bit about how cross country mountain biking got going to start with at all.

Gary Fisher is credited with being one of the inventors of the original mountain bike; taking a Schwinn single speed in the mid 1970s and adapting it to be fit for mountain riding. He opened bicycle company MountainBikes in 1975, the first company to specialise in mountain bikes, and founded Gary Fisher Mountain Bikes in 1983, one of the first to mass produce mountain bikes. The company was later acquired by Trek Bicycles.

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Fisher continued his innovation as time progressed and his bicycles were used by Italian rider Paola Pezzo as she raced to two Olympic gold medals in mountain biking; in 1996 and 2000.

It was around that time in the 70s and 80s that the cross-country Olympic format was born on the west coast of the USA, around people like Fisher.

In those days, events were raced around long loops or from point to point; but it was the starting point which would lead to the gruelling multi-lap XCO format we see today.

The first governing body for XCO came in the form of the National Off-Road Bicycle Association, NORBA, formed in USA in 1983. The rules were basic but required that riders accept no outside help, and so had to carry tools and spare parts with them.

The first UCI World Championships were held in 1990 and the first UCI World Cup Series, for XCO only, was held in 1991. By 1996 the mountain bike boom was in full flow and it was inducted into the Olympic Games.

A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking | The Olympic Games

As mentioned above, cross country mountain biking became an Olympic sport in 1996 at Atlanta, Georgia. There were a total of 38 males participants and 27 women, with Paola Pezzo winning the women’s category for Italy and Bart Brentjens taking the men’s for Netherlands.

The mountain biking events were held at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Georgia on a basic track.

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Since then, France have dominated the men’s category, with Miguel Martinez winning in Sydney 2000 and Julien Absalon taking gold at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. A mechanical stopped Absalon from taking a third successive gold at London 2012 in Hadleigh Park, where Czech’s Jaroslav Kulhavy beat the rest of the field. Expect Absalon and Kulhavy to be right at the top of the pack again in Rio.

The women’s field has been more evenly divided since Paola Pezzo won the opening golds in ’96 and 2000. Norwegian rider Gunn-Rita Dahle won in Athens 2004, Sabine Spitz won in Beijing 2008 – as well as  taking a bronze in Athens and a silver in London – and French rider Julie Bresset took top honours at London 2012.

The Future of Mountain Biking in the Olympics

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Rio 2016 | A History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games

Of course, nobody knows what the future holds, but with the inclusion of skateboarding and surfing for the 2020 Olympic Games, the IOC are certainly putting a prominence on youth culture and attracting the younger generation to the games.

On that note, the inclusion of downhill mountain biking in the Olympics doesn’t seem like an impossibility. A lot would have to change for downhill to be included, and it’s likely that one of the main issues with it would be the visibility of the sport – but it would no doubt shine a huge light on the discipline and do great things for it.

As for the future of cross country mountain biking in the Olympics, it’s going strong now, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. It's even attracting big name riders from other disciplines, like Slovakian Peter Sagan - the road cycling world champion and Green Jersey Tour de France King.

The courses are getting better and more audience friendly with each Games, so here’s hoping a lot of viewers tune in and get inspired to get at it.

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