Should downhill mountain biking be in the Olympics?

It’s kick-off time for the London Olympics today, and there’s BMX racing and cross-country mountain biking to watch. But what about downhill?

XC has been in the Games since 1996 and we’re mad-keen on it being there. It’s a bit of a surprise that it made it in, given the strict selection process and traditional style of the Olympics, but with all the Lycra and sweating we think it fits right in.

It’s still taking a lot of flak, though – Tour de France commentator Phil Liggett is the latest to mouth off about it. What would he and his fellow whingers think about downhill being in the Games?

The Olympics are all about athleticism and so’s XC racing. It all comes down to the rider, not the bike – something that’s not so clear cut in DH.  Downhill’s definitely the most exciting part of our sport, but does it belong at the Games? Here’s what some of the sport’s best known riders think…

Gee Atherton, GT Factory Racing

Gee Atherton. Picture by Steve Behr

Gee Atherton. Picture by Steve Behr

“I’m split into two minds about DH not being an Olympic sport. DH is in a good place at the moment, growing well and getting bigger and better each year. Turning it into an Olympic sport might affect this. It would certainly give the sport a huge boost, as far as coverage and exposure goes, but this wouldn’t be without a price. That grassroots feeling the sport has right now, that feeling of legitimacy, would almost certainly be lost.

“The big-name corporate sponsorship that would come along would definitely force the sport into a more clinical state. You’d lose that love that keeps the sport what it is right now. Maybe this wouldn’t be a bad thing, and I’m certainly not saying I’d be against it happening, but we should think, is the Olympic road the best place to take our sport?”

Andrew Neethling, Giant Factory Off-Road Team

Andrew Neethling. Picture by Steve Behr

Andrew Neethling. Picture by Steve Behr

“My personal view is that downhill is maybe a little like the 100m sprint of athletics. The sprinters are showing how fast a human can run in a sprint format – maybe we can show how fast a human can sprint down a hill on a bike over extreme terrain.

“The Olympics is striving to relate to the youth and be more exciting. Yes the venue might be a tricky part but look at the Vancouver Winter Olympics – the different venues were often far apart.”

Steve Peat, Santa Cruz Syndicate

Steve Peat. Picture by Steve Behr

Steve Peat. Picture by Steve Behr

“I’m torn between the sport I love going into the Olympics and not. On one side, I think it’d be great exposure for my sport and would really bring it to the masses. But on the other hand, we’re not the same breed as most of the other disciplines already in the Olympics. We stand out in our world, and also thrive in it.

“If we venture into this big thing I’m not certain where it would end up. There’d be a few athletes who’d suddenly get an influx of help and support behind them from national federations, but there’d also be a whole lot of other people left out and feeling sorry for themselves. It’ll take a fair bit more thinking on my part to decide which side of the fence to sit on.”

Fabien Barel, Mondraker

Fabien Barel. Picture by Russell Burton

Fabien Barel. Picture by Russell Burton

“First of all, our sport is too mechanical – the equipment we use affects our performance. In XC, road or BMX, one bike or the other does not change much.

“It’s also complicated to organise a [suitable] hill and would cost a fortune to operate properly. The Olympic community doesn’t want to end up in a similar situation to bobsleighing, where the infrastructure costs a fortune and is barely used afterwards.

“Finally, there are a lot of cycling events already at the Olympics – road, track, BMX and XC – so something would have to go away to make room for a new one. If, one day, we want to have a chance to go to the Olympics, we’ll have to take into account all of these parameters.”

Greg Minnaar, Santa Cruz Syndicate

Greg Minnaar. Picture by Steve Behr

Greg Minnaar. Picture by Steve Behr

“You have athletics, swimming, track cycling, gymnastics, marathon, triathlon… do you really think DH fits in? BMX was a push to get a younger audience to follow the Olympics, and in my opinion since BMX went in, it’s lost its core and become very bland. To me, the Olympics is for traditional sports – let’s keep it that way.

“DH appeals to a different type of person – a person who sees an X-Games gold as more of an achievement then an Olympic gold. A person who drives a lifted flat-back truck rather then a silver Mercedes. We have a great sport and product, and we don’t need the Olympics to elevate DH. The only thing our model lacks is Photoshop!”

For more on downhill and the Olympics, check out Doddy’s blog on BikeRadar. What do you think – would DH at the Games be the best thing since the invention of the Jägerbomb or would it spell the end for the sport as we know it? Let us know below…