‘Scrap the pursuit from the Olympics; why not? It’s old fashioned; it’s not exciting; look at track meets on TV, there’s no one there! In the United Kingdom, especially, there’s too much emphasis on time trials and pursuiting – the Olympic Committee are right to try to make the racing more exciting.’
The views, today, of 1967 world amateur road race champion, Graham Webb – he also won the Gent amateur six that year; so he’s entitled to his opinion!
Maybe he’s right; indeed, one of the reasons put forward for the Olympic move towards sprint disciplines is that the sprint type of events takes up a lot less TV time and give the public a quick, and easily understandable result.
Personally, I can see why the madison and points got the chop; the 2008 madison final was a great race, if you were a connoisseur and could appreciate the Argentineans brilliant defence of their lap gain. But if you were a non-cyclist, it was ‘reach for the remote control,’ time.
The points race isn’t one for the masses, either; albeit Llaneras is wonderful to watch – if you love track racing.
And maybe Graham is right, the pursuit isn’t the most exciting race on TV; when you’re there and there’s the sound of the Dugasts on hardwood, the rattle of the transmissions, the buzz of the crowd, the station lights flashing so close that you can’t separate them – but on the TV, with that split screen and two little bikes with guys who look identical, then it is difficult to get excited.
But the point is that sometimes sport isn’t just about TV and is about tradition, purity of effort, pain and the goal of being the best on the planet at a particular discipline.
The individual pursuit hasn’t been around at world level as long as we might imagine; whilst the amateur sprint title was first contested in 1893 and the pro in 1895, the individual pursuit was first ridden at world level in 1946 – with amateur and pro titles at stake. In 1993, the UCI dispensed with the am/pro distinction and there has been one title only, since that year. And it wasn’t until 1964 and Tokyo, that the individual pursuit first became an Olympic sport – albeit there has been an Olympic team pursuit since London in 1908.
In recent years, due to the ‘National plan’ approach to track racing, with the big nations having access to wind tunnels, the best designers, the biggest computers and – perhaps most importantly – allowing athletes to prepare specifically for one event, literally years in advance, we haven’t had winners who spur the imagination. Like 1972 Munich Olympic pursuit champion, Norwegian Knut Knudsen, who trained on his home built track; or the precocious, rapid but cavalier Swiss, Robert Dill-Bundi who won at Moscow in 1980.
Maybe the beginning of the end was Barcelona in 1992, when all the world could talk about was Briton, Chris Boardman’s Lotus – which he rode to victory in the pursuit final – the fact that opponent Jens Lehman of Germany was on a very sleek, aero machine was ignored; it was Boardman’s bike which won, in the eyes of the world’s media. Former Olympic head honcho, Avery Brundage once said; ‘the Olympics are about men, not machines!’
But sometimes one has to scratch the surface to find the real reasons for the demise of an Olympic event; take the kilometre, axed from Beijing, for BMX – when you remember that the majority of the world’s BMX bikes are manufactured in China, it begins to make sense.
Another reason for the demise of the kilometre was that the number of nations who could win it has decreased dramatically over the last few years to three or four – GB, Germany, France and Australia.
The same can be said of the pursuit; for London 2012 it looked like the finalists would come from GB – Brad, and the US – Taylor. But then that Thomas fellow came along; that’s right – GB!
It’s interesting to note the furore that was raised for the demise of the kilometre and is currently being raised about the end of the individual pursuit. But I can’t help but cast my mind back to when that most pure of events, the team time trial, was axed, ‘because only a limited number of nations could win,’ since GB and the USA weren’t two of said nations, not a cheap was uttered.
That said, I don’t follow the logic of introducing the omnium as an Olympic event, most bike fans would be hard pushed to tell you who is the reigning champion – Leigh Howard (Australia). And surely we’re back into ‘unfathomable for the non specialist fan territory?’ The race takes place over several days and as far as TV goes, has to be a non starter, it’s so convoluted and complex to explain.
But let’s stop beating around the bush – probably the biggest reason for the loss of the event is the ‘gender parity’ issue. By bringing in the additional women’s track events, the UCI and Olympic Committee have made track racing more agreeable to the other half of the world’s population; and if the individual pursuit is the price to pay, well, as long as the viewing figures go up, who cares?
Me, for one!