BMX Freestyle is the first judged cycling discipline to appear at the Olympic Games. In other disciplines, athletes getting from A to B the fastest are the ones awarded the medals, but in BMX Freestyle the winners are determined according to criteria judged by a panel of experts.
For its first appearance at the Olympic Games, BMX Freestyle Park will see the competitions at Tokyo 2020 take place on Saturday 31 July and Sunday 1st August at the Ariake Urban Sports Park.
For the uninitiated, judging can appear confusing as the riders doing the most flips and spins don't necessarily win the competition. In BMX Freestyle it’s important to stand out, perform tricks that no one else can do, and find lines on the field of play (FOP) that no other rider is capable of – all within 60 seconds, with style and grace, and without crashing! Judges also look at how smooth the riders’ landings are, how many mistakes they make, how many tricks each rider performs, whether they remain in control, and their level of originality.
Professional judges are required to determine a score between 0 and 100 points for each rider's run within seconds of them finishing. If the head judge takes a little longer to confirm the averaged score of the 5 judges, it’s to ensure that the collective score allocated to a rider is the right one.
With nine riders in both the men’s and women’s competitions, chances of scoring a medal in BMX Freestyle could be considered roughly 33% (with 12 riders in each class at the Paris 2024 Games it will get harder). The favourite for women’s gold is 2021 UCI World Champion Hannah Roberts (USA), who has claimed the number one spot many times in her career already.
But with expectations comes pressure, meaning mistakes can easily be made. It will be a balance between performing hard tricks and staying on the bike; although as the level of competition has increased over the years, a safe run will not be enough for a spot on the podium. But leave it with Hannah, she knows what to do…
Another rider who knows how to line up a run is another athlete from the USA, Perris Benegas. She’s not afraid to throw big tricks over big jump boxes and air higher than most out of the many quarter pipes on the FOP. Although Benegas’ riding style differs from Roberts', both are a pleasure to watch.
Great Britain's Charlotte Worthington has a wide variety of tricks that she will bring to Japan, including backflips, front flips, flairs, 360s, 540s and tailwhips. Where she will implement them depends on how she will use the FOP. The four days of scheduled training will be used to time a run of 60 seconds that includes all the hard tricks that Charlotte has been practicing. Nikita Ducarroz (SUI) does not want to be left out from a podium spot and neither does Lara Lessman (GER), Maca Perez (CHI) or local hero Minato Oike (JPN).
With the top-ranked nation in the Olympic Qualifying Ranking receiving two start slots, the race for qualifying points has been intense. Finally, it is the USA (for both Men and Women), who get to send two riders to the Games – Justin Dowell and Nick Bruce are the men chosen to represent the USA.
Meanwhile the host country’s hopes are on Rimu Nakamura. The overall winner of the 2019 UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Cup is hugely talented and will have the advantage of performing at home. Although Australia has many top-level BMX riders, their single spot went to 2021 UCI World Champion Logan Martin. Few would be surprised if he walked away with gold.
But his opponents are far from event fillers…
The competitor with the most contest experience is Daniel Dhers, representing Venezuela. Experience can be an important factor in pulling a perfectly executed run, and Daniel may be able to use that to his advantage. Costa Rica's Kenneth Tencio will give his everything, and Declan Brooks (GBR) will be the one riding different lines and will no doubt stand out. Irek Rizaev, representing the ROC, is capable of executing incredible tricks full of energy, and will use every minute of practice to get his run dialled in. Last but not least, Anthony Jeanjean from France can put powerful runs together full of the hardest tricks out there.
These are the favourites but the pressure of representing their country on the biggest world stage could lead to surprises. Whatever the outcome, this exciting competition at Tokyo 2020 will further promote BMX Freestyle and enthral all generations of sports fans.