Mountain Biking

Should Downhill Mountain Biking Be Included In The Next Olympic Shake-Up?

Olympic downhill mountain biking could open up a world of new possibilities for the sport...

A World Championship Medal for now, but could it be Olympic in the future? All photos: Laurence Crossman-Emms

The question over whether downhill mountain biking should be in the Olympics has been hanging around the sport for years – but every so often it resurfaces with a new drive behind it.

The latest return of the topic has come after quotes from Gee Atherton proclaiming that it would help the sport, but would be better fitted to the Winter Olympics than the Summer Games.

“I think downhill lends itself better to the spirit of the Winter Olympics,” he told BBC Sport, after claiming his second World Championship win in Hajfell, Norway.

current IOC rules state that only sports held on ice or snow are eligible for inclusion in the Winter Olympics

“If you look at how the Winter Games have changed [adding the likes of snowboard slopestyle in], it would be a better fit. That’s how I see it going.”

So should downhill MTB go Olympic? For a start, the current IOC (International Olympic Committee) rules state that only sports held on ice or snow are eligible for the Winter Olympics, so Gee’s preferred option would not be possible at the moment.

With the process of reviewing the entire structure of the Games under way though, the time is right to be asking the question.

Current President Thomas Bach took over the IOC in September of last year, and has since announced his plan to develop the ‘Olympic Agenda 2020’ project, “the strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic movement.”

This project includes reviewing which sports should be included in the Games, and will ultimately be voted on in December after gaining widespread support at a recent summit.

90 percent of the UK watched “at least 15 minutes” OF London 2012. ThAt means 51.9m people tuned in to watch sports they knEw Very little about.

Cross-country mountain biking is already an Olympic sport, and it’s no secret that the UCI are keen to get further disciplines involved.

The Olympics are said to be the biggest event on the planet, so it only makes sense that the UCI are keen to push their disciplines in that direction. The viewing figures show just how big an impact inclusion in the Games could have on downhill MTB, as well.

BBC stats show 90 percent of the UK watched “at least 15 minutes” of London 2012. That means 51.9m people tuned in to watch often slow-moving sports they knew very little about. Just think of the reception downhill could receive if it gathered momentum.

Certainly, the likes of synchronized swimming, curling and archery are consistently trending topics when the Games roll around.

When it’s not an Olympic year though, archery is probably best celebrated on Middle Earth, or in the forests of Sherwood in historic legends. Hell, we’re betting that if Robin Hood was around these days, he’d be shredding downhill lines on the weekend just like us.

We’re betting that if Robin Hood was around these days, he’d be shredding downhill lines on the weekend Too…

Show Robin, or any one of those 51.9 million Brits watching the ‘lympics, some gnarly DH GoPro footage and we’re betting they would be drawn to the sport like a midge to a mountain biker.

The Brits would undoubtedly shine on the big stage too – we’re currently home to both the men’s and women’s overall world cup titles and world championship winners – so individual profiles and that of the sport would predictably soar.

If the Brits did manage to rack up a few medal wins as well, the funding for the sport would go through the roof.

Take Sochi 2014 for example: the skeleton received funding of £3.5m for the Games, which will now rise to £6.5m thanks to one gold medal. Likewise, after a silver and a bronze in Sochi, the cheque for curling is set to rise from £2m to £5m, and a new multi-million pound development centre is also in construction.

Just imagine if downhill did make the Olympics and Rachel and Gee Atherton, Ratboy, Manon Carpenter and anyone else from the leagues of British talent did make the podium. We’d have enough money to keep the riders shotgunning beers for the next 50 years.

We’d have enough money to keep the riders shotgunning beers for the next 50 years…

Downhill needn’t burden itself with the serious nature of the contest either – we’ve got the likes of Ratboy and co. to make sure it stays light-hearted off the bike – but the discipline has always been competitive, so why not take it to the biggest stage of all?

Well, there are downsides of course. One of which would be the watering down of courses. This is something Gee did not shy away from when talking after the World Champs.

“A huge part of downhill’s appeal is its rawness,” he noted. “It’s still got this wild feeling about it and it’s not really like anything else. There’s a chance it might get watered down.”

The point is a valid one. It’s unlikely the tracks would be the steep, natural thrillers the riders love to shred. Olympic designers may be inclined to create more pedally tracks – partly because they don’t know better, partly, perhaps, because of safety concerns.

Other potential issues include the variation between bikes in a DH race. At the moment they vary vastly, but for Olympic use, there would have to be standardised limits imposed, so that it was all about the athlete and not about the gear.

Are these just enough reason to scrap the idea though? Absolutely not. They are hurdles, not roadblocks. And even if the racing was somewhat sub-standard, would the lasting impact not be worth the mediocre weekend of racing?

If you were to chuck Rob Warner in the commentary box, it would liven up even the dullest of courses up as well. Although we’re not sure the IOC would appreciate chat about Danny Hart’s balls.

Right now, viewing stats show that downhill is the most popular form of mountain biking though, and it’s easy to see why – it’s fast-flying, dangerous and the top riders have some crazy skills.

The sport has been growing for years now, but Olympic status could be just the catalyst needed to catapult it to a whole new level.

And if not for any other reason, who doesn’t want to see Ratboy trying to sing the national anthem on the six o’clock news?

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