The rapid rise of BMX Freestyle under the UCI

When the UCI integrated BMX Freestyle Park into its disciplines in 2016 a lot of work was still required to prepare the discipline for the Olympic stage.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was interested in BMX Freestyle Park, but the discipline needed to be more structured. It was not so much that rules and regulations needed to be invented, more that they needed to be put into writing. Previously most BMX Freestyle events were held “on the fly” and often thanks to spontaneous creativity.

Under the UCI, a rulebook was created and has subsequently been adjusted on an annual basis to improve the lot for BMX Freestyle. Now all riders can refer to this document to find out how an event will be run under the UCI. The UCI BMX Freestyle rules and regulations contain necessary information such as the length of a run, what the judges are looking for, competition format, and the number of UCI points available at each event on the UCI calendar. The rules are the same for everyone.

In 2016, there were five UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Cup rounds, the first taking place in May in Montpellier (France), the hometown of organisers Hurricane Action Sports. The opener was followed by rounds in Croatia, the USA, Canada and China. For the first time the women BMX athletes had a world stage, as a Women’s class competition was held at each of the UCI’s events. It was the start of something big.

The following year there were again five events in the UCI BMX Freestyle World Cup. The fact that the sport of BMX Freestyle – if executed correctly – had Olympic potential, saw a lot more riders become part of the programme. At the 2017 UCI World Cup in Montpellier, the visiting IOC observers were impressed by both the number of spectators, and the crowd’s reaction to the riders’ tricks.

In just 12 months, the Women’s field had nearly doubled in size and the best BMX Park riders had embraced the UCI World Cup as one of their most important series. At the competition in France the riders put on an amazing show, and just a few weeks later came the news that BMX Freestyle Park would be an Olympic discipline in Tokyo, Japan, 2020. Naturally, interest in the discipline grew strongly after this announcement. For the first time in history at the 2017 UCI Urban Cycling World Championships, the rainbow jerseys of UCI World Champions were awarded – and they went to Logan Martin (AUS) and Hannah Roberts (USA) for their performances in Chengdu, China.

By 2018, National cycling Federations had become more involved in BMX Freestyle. Licences were issued by the Federations and there were opportunities to add events to the UCI’s international calendar. Instead of the five UCI events in 2016 and 2017, the calendar mushroomed to 24 competitions, includig official National Championships in several countries. More and more riders were becoming part of the new BMX Freestyle structure. The Women’s side of the sport saw especially big growth, not only in numbers (30 female riders competed in the UCI World Cup in Montpellier this year) but also in quality. Support from coaches, Federations and sponsors have helped develop Freestyle riding to a standard we’d never seen before.

The Olympic qualifying criteria were announced in 2018 and two new UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Champions were crowned: Justin Dowell and Perris Benegas, both of the USA. The Flatland discipline also saw the first official UCI World Cup winners, Matthias Dandois (FRA) and Misaki Katagiri (JPN), picking up their cups in China.

Roll on 2019 and we have 67 BMX Freestyle Park events on the international UCI calendar: confirmation of the international development of the sport. At the end of 2019 we will also have the first continental championships in BMX Freestyle Park. The BMX Freestyle Park ranking is an interesting way of keeping track on how the riders are doing individually, how the nations are ranked and who is looking good for Tokyo 2020. Over the past 12 months 232 male riders have scored UCI points at events and 79 Women are listed in the UCI points ranking… an amazing leap forward from 2016 when five women entered that first UCI World Cup in Montpellier.

2020 will be the first time we will have Olympians in BMX Freestyle competing for a medal in the Park discipline. It’s something many are looking forward to already.