Cycling News Special for June 12, 2005
Edited by Jeff Jones
Killing the Kilo and the 500
What sport are they watching?
Commentary by Gerard Knapp and John Stevenson
The UCI's decision to eliminate the men's and women's sprint time trials has caught administrators completely by surprise, as most thought it would be the men's and women's points races that would be sacrificed to make way for BMX.
The process imposed by the International Olympic Committee is that to allow BMX events to be held in Beijing in 2008, cycling must take out two existing events. The theory is that it will reduce athlete numbers and keep a lid on costs for the host nation.
However, it's a flawed and illogical process by any measure. Like the entry of MTB events at the expense of the road team time trials, it takes more money to build new venues and only increases the costs for the host nation, whose only saving is that they don't have to forge two extra sets of medals. Who are they kidding?
There could be some political brinkmanship here by the UCI; killing the 'kilo' will lead to justifiable outrage. It may force the IOC to reconsider its conditions, because adding BMX will certainly increase the costs of staging an Olympics.
Instead, there is a cruel sacrifice of two events that are absolute tests of the all-bets-are-off and no-excuses racing that is the heart and soul of track cycling.
This is like athletics dumping the 100 metres sprint. And then there are we poor punters. Look at what we have just lost.
The countdown of riders in the men's 'kilo' and women's 500 metre time trials, as they each have one crack at putting down the fastest time, can be one of the most exciting events in a track cycling program, offering this unique mixture of suspense and action unlike any other event. It's in the "can't miss" category.
Over the years, we have seen and heard the crowds build their support for their favoured rider as he or she walks up to the starting gate, with chanting around the velodrome, clapping, stamping of feet. The tension is palpable. Eventually, and usually with some coaxing from the announcer, the crowd falls silent as they all join the rider and wait for the five-second countdown until the gun fires.
And when it does fire, the energy from the crowd almost matches that of the rider as they burst out of the gate, every sinew of muscle straining to crank their huge gears up to speed. The men snort, hiss and wheeze as these human beings pump out over two kilowatts of power into the pedals. No rider in this event crosses the line ever feeling 'fresh'. They're cooked, and at an Olympics, they can condense four years of training into less than a minute of sustained effort.
This is track cycling is its most purest form. Man or woman against the clock, and the crowd watching every pedal stroke, with an eye on the clock as they also estimate whether the rider is going to make the best time.
These are not obscure, outdated and irrelevant events. They are highlights. Every Briton would have leapt for joy when the flying Scotsman, Chris Hoy pounded around the boards in the Athens Velodrome and bettered - yet again - this incredible succession of record-breaking rides in the 2004 kilo. Then there was Anna Meares' world-record breaking ride in the women's 500m time trial. This journalist cannot recall a more animated and genuinely excited Phil Liggett describe that one, and our 'voice of cycling' has seen his share of bike races.
Indeed, the kilo is one of the foundation events from the first modern Olympics.
This is not to deny BMX its place in an Olympics. Indeed, bring it in. But the UCI's decision to cut these two track events, and leave female sprinters with only one event, is hardly consistent with maintaining growth of the sport, and helping host nations keep a lid on costs. It won't cut costs, it won't reduce the number of athletes, all it will do is take away two of track cycling's most prized medals.
In terms of athlete numbers, the sprinters that rode the kilo and 500m in Athens all doubled up for other events. Their successors will continue to fill the athletes' village, and they'll all still need a velodrome, an expensive facility that most Olympic host cities struggle to justify after the Games.
Adding BMX therefore simply increases the number of athletes and venues that cycling requires at the Olympics. It's as through the UCI has deliberately given the finger to the IOC. "Right, we have to drop a discipline? We'll drop one that saves you exactly no money at all. Ha! Take that!" Oookayy...
The decision fails to achieve the objective. Simon Clegg, the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, told the Times newspaper, "My reaction is one of considerable disappointment because the one kilometre time-trial is an event in which we have enjoyed so much success.
"However, we have to accept that if a new discipline comes into the Games then the international federation has to remain within its numbers and effectively rejig its programme."
This is what we journalists call, "absolute cobblers."
As a representative of the people who've paid good money to watch these amazing athletes in action, the UCI and the IOC are wrong. This is our sport they are killing, and who gave them the right to do that?
Clignet weighs in
Retired top French cyclist Marion Clignet agrees that the UCI's decision to axe the kilo and the 500m time trial from the Olympics is short-sighted. "I'm stumped, shelled for the women's 500 and the kilo which are, in my opinion, far more interesting than the Madison and definitely more spectator friendly," Clignet wrote to Cyclingnews. "I had heard last year that the Madison was going and I wasn't going to lose sleep over it. Don't get me wrong, it's a great event but...it's true that spectators have a really difficult time following it, whereas the kilo and 500 are straightforward. How can they be taken out like that? Does the UCI have the right to take out these events without consulting federations and athletes, and do they have the right to bring the already very few women's speed events down to one? I should think not. I say we do something about it!"
Online petition set up
Carlton Reid, publisher of bikebiz.co.uk, has taken the step of setting up an online petition to save the two events:
To: UCI and IOC
"We" (the undersigned) would like to register our surprise that the UCI (International Cycling Union) has agreed to the decision of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to scrap the Track Men's Kilometre Time Trial and the Women's 500m Time Trial. This could severely damage the sport of track cycling, will curtail the careers of many dedicated track cyclists and could impact on public funding for track cycling in the form of either direct state funding or indirect state funding via sports governing bodies or Olympic programmes. We call on the UCI to rescind its decision and to inform the IOC that different cycling events will be put forward for deletion instead.
Alternatives to killing the kilo
It's understood that the UCI had alternative recommendations against the removal of any track cycling events. Instead, it was suggested that the road time trials be removed to make way for BMX. The thinking was that road cycling is already a strong commercial discipline of the sport, and in recent Olympics, the ITT also necessitated a completely separate course to the blue ribbon road race.
A dedicated ITT course places additional cost pressures on the host nation, not to mention road closures. Also, BMX is primarily a junior sport where riders tend to progress through to either road, track or MTB racing. It will also require a host nation to build a completely new and specific course for only two medals, and the action of all events would result in some 30 minutes of actual racing.
All officials have pointed out how track cycling is a winner for the host nation. It is one of the first events to sell out all seating for all sessions, and indeed it could be argued, increasing the length of the track program would only result in increased returns for the host nation, especially if it has to build a covered velodrome up to Olympic standards.
Cycling Australia has expressed surprise and disappointment to the news that the UCI has decided to drop the men's kilo and the women's 500m time trial from the Beijing Olympics.
"All federations were invited to make submissions to the UCI and this is certainly the first we've heard that the track time trial events were being targeted for removal from the Games program," said Cycling Australia, CEO, Graham Fredericks. "I would have to say this is especially disappointing for the women sprinters who now only have one event they can contest at Olympic Games level.
"We were very strongly against any women's track medals being dropped because of the knock-on effect it may have on women's sprint cycling across the board."
The women's 500 metre time trial was introduced at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the reigning world record holder and Athens Olympic gold medallist, Queensland's Anna Meares, said she is shocked by the decision.
"I am very disappointed to put it politely and really mad to be honest," said Meares. "I don't understand their logic. I think they should have looked at other avenues because the time trials are two of the most exciting events on the track."
Evidence of the popularity of the track events is the fact the velodromes consistently sell out at Olympic Games. "Women already have less events at the Olympics and I think women's sprinting will suffer for it," said Meares who also claimed bronze in the sprint at the Olympic Games in Athens. "I find it hard to believe all the countries have agreed to this and I'd like an explanation from the UCI as to why they made this choice because as it stands I have no idea why."
Meares anger is understandable as the decision has effectively cut her medal chances in half. "It feels like all of a sudden instead of training and working hard to achieve two goals at Olympics they've just cut my career in half," she said. "It will also now make it harder to get sponsorship and support because I will have just one race and one chance for exposure."
The men's one kilometre time trial was introduced to the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928 and in 1932 Edgar 'Dunc' Gray won Australia's first ever cycling Olympic gold medal when he won the kilometre. Russell Mockridge brought the gold medal back to Australia after the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Victorian Shane Kelly, who has contested the event at the past four Olympic Games, was also surprised by the announcement. Kelly is a past world record holder and three time world champion in the event and his Olympic record includes 'kilo' silver in Barcelona in 1992, bronze in Sydney in 2000 and a fourth place last year in Athens
"It's definitely a shock and very disappointing especially when you consider it is one of the most hotly contested events at the Olympic Games," said Kelly. "In Athens four guys went under the Olympic record and the 'kilo' is a great 'edge of the seat' event for the fans."
33 year old Kelly is considered the veteran of the Australian team but in a 13 year international career has consistently performed on the world stage. More recently, Kelly has focussed on the keirin in which he claimed Olympic bronze in Athens and bronze at the 2005 World Championships in Los Angeles in March.
"It was my dream for so long to get the 'kilo' gold but I suppose that dream is well and truly over now," said Kelly. "I hadn't decided yet whether or not to try for it in Beijing but I don't have a choice now."
Kelly also described the decision to cut the women's 500m event as 'pretty rude' pointing to the limited number of events available for his female team mates to contest.
Both events will however remain in the programs for the Commonwealth Games and World Championships.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2005)