After work today I watched some of the Olympic cycling, which was exciting, enthralling and totally bonkers.
There was no keirin today – the one where the cyclists ride behind a bloke on a moped until the last couple of laps – but there was plenty of baffling variety. The women were taking part in the omnium, which sounds like something out of Doctor Who but is really just a sort of cycling pentathlon but with six events which would make it what? A hexathlon? A sexathlon?
Anyway, I joined during the points race which is an event designed under the influence of drugs. It looked like there were several different competitions taking place at once and it is as much about tactics as speed. In fact it is probably more about tactics. It is like chess on wheels, or rather Star Trek three-dimensional chess on wheels because the individual sprint competitions were more like plain chess on wheels.
The sprints were fascinating, starting at a snail’s pace with the two competitors daring each other to start racing first. The first time you see it the whole thing looks bizarre as they crawl round the first third or even half of the distance. You can almost imagine the disqualified badminton players watching in disbelief and yelling “but they are not even trying!”. When the riders eventually crack though, it gets very exciting very quickly and the men’s final was absolutely astonishing to watch.
In between sprints there was another of the omnium events – the elimination race. This is also a the product of a warped mind and brilliant fun to watch. They cycle round and round and every other lap is a sprint. The last person to cross the line gets eliminated until there are only two left. The ones who are eliminated have a little box on the handlebars that flashes a red light to tell them they are out.
As well as being an exciting evening of armchair sports it was also quite thought-provoking. For a start I was wondering how chaotic the elimination race must have been before having transmitters to the bikes. Did they have to wave flags? Did they have trained snipers in the gallery to take out the last rider?
As with many other sports you also had to wonder how it was all managed before the technology existed to accurately measure times to the nearest hundredth of a second.
Having read an article in the Telegraph earlier in the day about the French reaction to all the British medals, there were some other thoughts. Like how some rules had been changed specifically to stop Britain getting even more medals in cycling, well one rule really – the limit on the munber of competitors from one country. If that limit had not been in place there is a good chance that the men’s sprint final would have been an all-British affair like in Beijing and the French wouldn’t even have got their silver from that event.
Actually that rule change does seem a little unfair. I think that the rules for different events are set by that event’s governing body and not the IOC which would account for the inconsistancy. Imagine if the same limits were placed on other sports – only one Chinese player in the table tennis, only one Jamaican in the 100m final, only one American in the swimming races and so on. It might reduce the dominance of China and America in the overall medal table but it would remove some of the best spectacles.
Even so, the track cycling was great fun to watch. I just imagine some mad scientist in his lab, which is probably in Japan, cooking up the next mad variation of the events. Perhaps by the 2020 games will see the elimination race ‘improved’ by the introduction of small explosive charges in the box with the lights. They could call it the Battle Royale.