BMX Freestyle Park: road to Tokyo for the discipline and the athletes

Since the UCI officially integrated BMX Freestyle Park into its regulations back in 2016, the plans were always there to see the discipline join the Olympic Games programme.

The creation of the UCI BMX Freestyle World Cup was followed, in 2017, by the announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that BMX Park would feature at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

With a network of 195 countries – the number of the UCI’s affiliated National Federations, which now stands at 197, at the time of BMX Freestyle Park’s integration -, had provided Park riders with a huge base to tap into. Cycling’s National Federations started looking for former BMX Pro riders to lead their Freestyle programmes with one major goal; making it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

With only nine spots available for men and nine for women, it was not going to be an easy task, but considering just five women participated at the very first UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Cup in Montpellier, France, there were places for the taking. Women’s participation grew from five in 2016 to nine riders in 2017, to 30 Elite Women at the Montpellier UCI World Cup in 2018. With the prospect of Olympic medals on the horizon, numerous nations worked to develop the discipline, particularly among women.

The road to Tokyo started at the end of 2018 when the first Olympic qualifying event took place in Chengdu, China, at the UCI Urban Cycling World Championships. The Olympic qualifying criteria included the 2018 and 2019 UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Championships, six UCI BMX Freestyle World Cups, one Continental Championship result, the National Championships of 2019 and the six best results in C1 events during the qualification period (initially November 2018 - 3 March 2020).

Several pathways were offered to make it to Tokyo. First of all, the host nation Japan received a spot, leaving eight tickets for the remaining countries. For each gender, the UCI Olympic Qualification ranking is calculated by adding up the UCI points of the two highest ranked athletes from each National Olympic Committee (NOC), with the top nation claiming two quota spots. This leaves six tickets; two of which went to the nations that finished highest at the 2019 UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Championships in China who were not already qualified through the nations ranking. The remaining four spots were due to go to the nations that followed.

When the pandemic hit, the original plan was adjusted to include the 2021 UCI Urban Cycling World Championships in Montpellier, France, as the last and determining event to qualify for Tokyo 2020 – which, by this time, had been moved to the summer of 2021.

Last week’s UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Championships were extremely important for the finalisation of the Elite Men’s Olympic qualification Ranking, as both Australia and the USA were tied on points for first place before the competition.

With two Olympic spots on the line in Montpellier, it came down to a real battle with the main riders from both top nations  in the finals: the nation with the combined higher points would be able to send two of their top riders (and a reserve) to the Olympic Games, instead of one.

While Logan Martin (AUS) grabbed his second title of UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Champion – repeating his 2017 win – his teammate’s 11th place wasn’t enough for Australia to claim the top spot in the Olympic Qualifying Nation Ranking. The USA showed their consistency with Daniel Sandoval finishing 2nd and Justin Dowell 4th to secure the top nation spot for the USA.

For Tokyo 2020 this means that the following nations will be present at the Ariake Urban Sports Park: USA, Australia, ROC, Great Britain, Japan, Venezuela, France, and Costa Rica.

Not all nations have announced their riders, but fans worldwide will be expecting to see the following in Tokyo this summer: Nick Bruce and Justin Dowell (USA), Logan Martin (AUS), Irek Rizaev (ROC - (Russian Olympic Committee), Declan Brooks (GBR), Rim Nakamura (JPN), Daniel Dhers (VEN), Anthony Jeanjean (FRA) and Kenneth Tencio (CRC).

In the Women’s competition few changes to the qualification ranking were possible give that Macarena Perez (CHI) sat out the competition, the ROC performed well, Laury Perez (FRA) was injured and Spain did not make the final.

This left the following nations with their tickets to Tokyo this summer: USA (two spots), Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, ROC, Chile, Australia and host nation Japan. Chile and Australia got in because of their good results at the 2019 UCI World Championships. It is now up to the nations themselves to put forward the names of the riders.

Most likely the riders making their Olympic debut will be Hannah Roberts (USA), Perris Benegas (USA), Lara Lessmann (GER), Charlotte Worthington (GBR), Nikita Ducarroz (SUI), Elizaveta Posadskikh (ROC), Macarena Perez (CHI), Natalya Diehm (AUS) and Minato Oike (JPN).

It is worth noting that the rider(s) who will actually compete at the Games can change as each nation has the opportunity to bring a P-Alternate athlete who can replace a selected rider while in Tokyo.