The Winter Olympics in Sochi are off and sliding and ice dancing, but there’s one fast growing winter sport that isn’t there – cyclo-cross. Every four years, the debate surrounding whether it should be included as an event gains momentum – but sadly, nothing ever materialises.
It was a similar story this year; the Belgian paper Gazet van Antwerpen was the first to break the news that cyclo-cross was once again ‘under consideration’ for Winter Olympic inclusion. This time, the case put forward for cyclo-cross was bolstered by the support of cross-country running. So why is cyclo-cross still not an Olympic sport?
Each time the question is raised, the answer is simple and always the same; while cyclo-cross is a winter sport it doesn’t officially take place on snow or ice, and therefore according to the current International Olympic Committee rules it can’t be included.
Times are changing though – Brian Cookson wrote in a recent blog that apparently IOC President Bach has ‘signalled his appetite for change’ and the snow and ice criteria could potentially be up for negotiation.
This is long overdue.
Not every nation in the world necessarily identifies even with ‘winter’ as a season, let alone the snow, ice and Santa vision of it, that the Olympic Charter requires Winter Olympic sports to conform to.
Cyclo-cross (together with cross-country running) offers an opportunity not just to broaden the existing participation at the Winter Olympics but to open it up to new markets, new nations and new participants. So what if every four years there is a one-off race on snow? The same competitors will be competitive. Alongside the traditional powers of cyclo-cross, we can presume that more nations will be competitive. Countries with strong Olympic programmes (looking at you GB and Australia) who are currently weak at cyclo-cross and lack snow would improve with funding. Both cyclo-cross, and the Winter Olympics win.
At the recent cyclo-cross worlds, 23 nations from four continents took to the start line. This doesn’t seem a huge number, but let’s presume that being an Olympic sport increases participation, and compare it to the 20 nations who will go ski jumping in Sochi.
Fairly few sports at the Winter Olympics are truly international and most of them have a higher cost barrier to entry than cyclo-cross. Curling, cross-country skiing, and ski jumping all have a similar profile to cyclo-cross; incredibly popular in a heartland where they are often the de-facto national sport, and increasingly popular elsewhere too.
In addition, guaranteeing good snow conditions causes all sorts of headaches for the organisers of the Winter Olympics. Sochi is on the ‘Russian Riviera’ and so the snow events are having to take place almost 70km, and several billion roubles, away by road. The unusually high temperatures in Vancouver 2010 meant that the event organisers had to airlift in snow to make up for the scant covering of the white stuff in order to prevent the Olympics from being a total wash out.
This is where cyclo-cross comes in – the best cyclo-cross races take place in the worst conditions, and the worst conditions are melting snow and ice. Both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic venues beg the question of why not cyclo-cross? Cyclo-cross can take place in a host city park and it doesn’t need the snow that these two places struggle(d) with. It is the ultimate all-inclusive winter sport that can take place in mud, rain, sleet, ice, sand or snow.
So, let’s raise a glass of Belgian beer in the hope that by 2018 or 2022 we’ll see thousands of Belgian, Czech and American cyclo-cross fans in a snowy (or muddy) field.
About the author
Tom Last has raced one cyclo-cross race in the snow, several in the ice, and many in the mud.