What You Need To Know As BMX Freestyle Makes Its Olympic Debut
by Todd Kortemeier
Justin Dowell poses at the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympic shoot on November 23, 2019 in West Hollywood, California.
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Some fans may be confused to learn BMX freestyle is a new sport on the program for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020; after all, a sport called BMX has been on the Olympic program since 2008.
But the high-flying, tail-whipping BMX freestyle is a whole different animal from its racing cousin.
The sports are related; BMX bikes were invented to be raced. Enter Bob Haro and others like him in Southern California in the 1980s, who saw the skate park as a better playing field for BMX. Soon riders were taking their bikes off ramps and jumps and testing the limits of what could be done with a BMX bike.
For Team USA fans new to the sport, there’s a lot of reasons to be excited. The U.S. boasts some of the top riders in BMX freestyle and should be a favorite to top the medal table.
Almost from the beginning, BMX freestyle riders started to think of ways to compete against one another. Much like snowboarding, innovation was the name of the game as riders sought to outdo each other and push the limits of the sport. Televised events like the X Games brought BMX freestyle to worldwide audiences in the 1990s and were soon followed by competitions like the Gravity Games and the Dew Tour.
In 2016, BMX freestyle gained a level of legitimacy when it fell under the umbrella of the worldwide governing body for all cycling, the Union Cycliste International (UCI). That meant a world cup circuit on par with other cycling sports and a world championship in 2017. That same year, BMX freestyle was officially approved for the Olympic program.
Broadly referred to as BMX freestyle at the Games, the specific discipline of the sport on the Olympic program is called BMX park. That’s because it takes place in a venue akin to a skate park. These parks have bowls, ramps and other obstacles for riders to use. There are other forms of BMX freestyle such as street that sees riders use rails and pipes for tricks.
Riders get two 60-second runs to showcase their skills. Tricks are subject to a panel of judges and riders get points for difficulty, execution, creativity and more. The number of tricks is almost endless.
Three of the four riders on the U.S. Olympic team are past or present world champions, headlined by reigning world champ Hannah Roberts. The 19-year-old has been one of the best riders in the world since 2017, when she won the first-ever UCI world championship. Roberts would go on to win again in 2019, in the process becoming the first-ever woman to land a 360 tailwhip at a competition. She was nearly perfect in 2019, winning every world cup and the overall title as well as the Pan American Games gold medal and national championship. Despite the long layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Roberts picked up where she left off by winning a third world championship in June.
While Roberts owns three of the four women’s world championships in history, Perris Benegas has the other. Benegas won the gold medal in 2018 along with two other U.S. women in a podium sweep. Benegas will turn 26 the day before the Tokyo Opening Ceremony.
On the men’s side, Team USA also has a world champion in Justin Dowell. Dowell topped the podium in 2018 with the help of his signature move, a combination of a tailwhip and a bar called the “twix.” The 21-year-old went on to win gold at the 2019 Pan American Games.
Last but not least is Nick Bruce, the oldest member of the team at 29. Bruce was formerly a business student at Youngstown University but left to chase his BMX dreams. Bruce made his X Games debut in 2017 and finished just off the podium in fourth.
As for the competition for Team USA, Australia’s Logan Martin is the reigning men’s world champion and should be among the favorites in Tokyo as well. On the women’s side, Roberts and Benegas could be pushed by Macarena Perez of Chile and Charlotte Worthington of Great Britain.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.