David Owen: Flying Dutchmen show clean pair of wheels to rivals as BMX gets under way
Wednesday, 08 August 2012
The Latvian BMX rider was going well in today's seeding run for the men's competition when a crash sent his face slamming into the undulating concrete surface of the London 2012 track.
They wear pretty serious crash-helmets in this high-octane, yoof culture branch of the sport of cycling.
So we may still see him in tomorrow's quarter-final runs.
But he appeared to be bleeding from the nose as he made his exit to a sympathetic applause from the noisily good-natured crowd.
Of the 48 riders who made their 2012 Olympic debuts with single runs down the 450-metre track (440-metre for women) this afternoon, Treimanis was one of two – one man, one woman - who suffered crashing falls.
It was just enough to remind spectators that, however exhilarating the best practitioners make the sport seem, you need to be tough to get to the top as a BMX racer.
And today, the riders were racing against the clock in solitary splendour; in the competition proper, they will be vying for position through the jumps, bumps and tightly banked corners in groups of eight.
No wonder, Sir Chris Hoy, who started out as a child BMX racer, has since excelled in the keirin, the track cycling sprint event where just about anything goes.
BMX, which made its Olympic debut only in Beijing four years ago, is more important than you might perhaps think to the Olympic Movement.
It is one of the vehicles through which the sometimes staid-seeming International Olympic Committee (IOC) has permitted its flagship event, the summer Games, to venture into the domain of extreme sports, with their proven ability to seduce youngsters away from their computer games consoles.
The significance of this role has been rewarded in London with a place in the Olympic Park, improving the prospects that time-frazzled (OK, lazy) sports generalists such as me will take a few minutes to wonder in and get a feel for what the sport can offer.
And let me tell you, what the sport can offer is all the loud music, in-your-face commentary and adrenalin-soaked daredevilry that a rebellious adolescent can handle.
Also tattoos: one particularly well-embellished Australian rider appeared to have the image of an owl inked to his throat.
Oh, and it appears to be one of those sports where it is de rigueur for the men not to shave on race-days.
But don't let me give you the impression that the teams are not as ultra-serious as in any other Olympic sport.
A United States Cycling official explained to me that they had built a replica track in Chula Vista, California.
"Our replica track is a little harder [than the London original]," she told me.
The US riders think the London track is "easier than last summer at the test event," she added.
As for prospects for the competition proper on tomorrow and Friday (August 10), an Australian rider called Caroline Buchanan set the fastest time in the women's seeding run, with Great Britain's Shanaze Reade - whose pursuit of gold in Beijing four years ago ended with a fall – finished fifth fastest of 16.
In the men's contest, two of the three fastest runs were by Dutch riders, with Britain's Liam Phillips 12th of 32.
These achievements entitle Buchanan and the top ranked Dutchman, Raymon van der Biezen to have first pick of their lanes when the racing proper starts.
However, while an undoubted confidence boost for the riders concerned, this privilege, I am told, confers nowhere near as big an advantage as, say, starting from pole position in a Formula One Grand Prix.
The riders all seem to like the venue, although a windy day might pose extra problems, and Van der Biezen describes the track as "really tough".
"I didn't expect to win, but somehow I know the fast lines," he said after today's run.
The orange-uniformed rider indicated he would probably choose lane one in tomorrow's quarter-finals, giving him the inside line for the first turn.
For this quarter-final stage, the athletes will race in heats of eight, with each octet taking three runs.
Points are awarded based on finishing positions, one point for first, two for second, and so on.
The two riders with the lowest points aggregate in each heat after three runs will progress to the semi-finals, with the remaining six riding two more races to determine which two further competitors will pedal on to the next stage of the competition.
David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 World Cup. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here