Cross Country Mountain Bike racers and Downhill Mountain Bike racers have two things in common, they love riding bikes. They race with the opportunity of representing their sport at the highest level on offer for elite cyclists.
The difference? Cross Country Riders start racing with the opportunity to represent their Country at the Olympic games, Downhill racers do not.
Cross Country Mountain Biking debuted as an Olympic sport the 1996 Atlanta, USA Summer Games. In the years that have followed, thousands of eager sportspeople have represented their country in hope for an Olympic result.
Downhill racing, however, is currently not included in the Olympics. The debate on whether it should or shouldn’t be has surfaced following the news that surfing, sports climbing, skateboarding, karate and baseball/softball have been approved for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
The two disciplines are similar, as they both involve riding off road mountain bikes. They are unique however, and differ greatly in terms of the equipment and format of racing.
At the World Championships, the two events are run together, raising the question of why one should only be included at the Olympics.
Rebecca McConnell (Henderson) is a two-time Cross-Country Olympian and Commonwealth Games Bronze Medallist, who believes that that there is definitely room for both disciplines.
“The direction of the Olympic games is including more modern sports where I see downhill racing fitting much better than some of the other sports which are recent or new inclusions for 2020,” Rebecca says.
Downhill racers are required to wear more protective equipment in comparison to Cross Country riders, due to the more extreme trail conditions. To paint a picture, Downhill courses consist of large gap jumps, technical rock gardens, and high speeds.
“Downhill racers are serious, they train hard and take huge risks!” Rebecca explains.
The need for steep, technical and long terrain may be the biggest inhibition when it comes to the sport being included.
“The most difficult part is the Olympic Games is always in a major city around the World where such a mountain may not always be accessible.” Rebecca says.
Rebecca believes that there is a way for the Olympic Committee to accommodate for this.
“The Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast had some sports playing preliminary games in Townsville, Cairns and Brisbane – so I certainly think it should be possible.”
Cross County Mountain Bike racing is also very technical, but differs because the racers must also ride up hill as well as down.
The inclusion of the Cross-Country course that Rebecca raced during the 2012 and 2016 Games was courtesy of South African course designer and ex-mountain biking pro Nick Floros.
There is an extensive list of trail design companies and experts who would have the abilities to introduce a Downhill specific trail in the towns hosting the Olympics.
Cross Country and Downhill Mountain Biking have become more popular, and have a much larger spectator crowd. The event even appeals to those who may not know much about the sport. Rebecca explains how well received the mountain biking is.
“It was such an amazing feeling to show your sport off to the World outside of the MTB circuit!” She said.
“Of-course the racing was still absolutely brutal and painful but when you have 30,000 spectators cheering you on, it doesn’t hurt quite so much.”
The 2017 Fort William UCI World Cup round attracted a record 20,000 spectators.
There is also definite promise surrounding the possible attendance numbers at a Downhill Olympic event if it were to be included.
The amount of people entering Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA) events is growing at a rate of 10% per year.
The participation numbers at the Australian national Championships are gradually increasing, significantly in the discipline of Downhill.
To further increase participation rates, Rebecca believes that development pathways and funding is essential.
“It was only at the end of 2011 when I really started to think about the Olympic Games,” she said
“There was a huge support program called the Dirt Roads to London – the idea was to create a big pool of talented mountain bike Women in Australia.”
Although Rebecca was too young for this at the time, it highlighted the fact that reaching the Olympic Games could be a reality.
Increased Government Funding is required before Downhill is included into the Olympic Games.
“There is no high performance or talent development program for mountain bikers in Australia for any discipline.” Rebecca explains.
A Presence at the Olympics would increase rider participation, raise the standard of World-Wide cycling, and broadcast an exciting discipline of riding to a wider audience.
Rebecca McConnell (Henderson) is one of the lucky few to be able to represent her country as an elite sportsperson, and her final conclusion is that, despite some possible stoppages, downhill should be an Olympic sport.
“YES – I would love to see downhill MTB in the Olympic Games!!!”
“Once you get a taste of the ‘Olympic Dream’ you want another taste and another.”