Armstrong’s Return

On September 22, 2008 by

Cycling legend, Lance Armstrong, recently shocked the world of sport by announcing his plans to come out of retirement to compete in the Tour de France. Armstrong has never been one to shy away from controversy and his reasons for returning should certainly be taken with a pinch of salt.

The official reason behind the cyclist’s return is a desire to “raise awareness of the global cancer burden”, a charitable intention somewhat undermined by the subsequent comment from his manager that “we’re not going to try to win second place”. So why exactly is Armstrong coming out of retirement?

Perhaps the first, and most cynical, reason that springs to mind is financial gain. Armstrong has been quick to put a stop to this kind of speculation, stating that he is not going to ask for a salary. Whether this is true or not is beside the point.

Some form of income is bound to come as a result of the media frenzy surrounding Armstrong’s recent announcement. On the other hand, the cyclist’s bank account is hardly at risk of running low, given his lucrative sponsorship deals with Nike and Trek bikes.

Some pundits have suggested that Armstrong is secretly keen to prove that his previous victories in the Tour de France have been clean, following continuing speculation that he took the banned drug, EPO, during the 1990s. However, this argument appears somewhat tenuous, especially since Armstrong has already passed dozens of drug tests over the years. Furthermore, would such an independent and self-assured character really result to such drastic measures just to prove certain sports critics wrong?

Perhaps the real reason lies behind this self-assured sense of identity that the cyclist has built over the years. After so many years at the top of his sport, it must be extremely difficult for Armstrong to simply let go of that area of his life. He has focussed his energies on raising a tremendous amount of money for charity but has seemingly not been able to experience the thrills provided by regular competition.

Many other sportsmen and women have found themselves in similar predicaments following retirement and have reversed their decisions without any of the speculation that is surrounding Armstrong’s announcement.

Whatever the reason for the cyclist’s decision, it certainly is a brave one. He has put his reputation on the line and ultimately risks humiliation. After all, Armstrong will be 37 when the Tour de France begins and only one cyclist over the age of 34 has ever won the tournament, and that was over 80 years ago. Rabobank team leader, Adri van Houwelingen, believes that it will be “impossible” for the cyclist to win the Tour de France, stating that Armstrong will be unable to “come back on the level he had before” as a young man.

However, in response to questions over his age, Armstrong has been quick to remind the public of the examples of Dara Torres, a 41-year old Olympic medallist swimmer, and Constantina Tomescu-Dita, who won a gold medal in the Olympic Marathon at the age of 38. Ultimately, the message seems clear: write Armstrong off at your peril.

Written by Charlotte Cook

Armstrong to make shock comeback

On September 10, 2008 by

Lance Armstrong wants that eighth Tour De France as the American has confirmed that he is coming out of retirement for the 2009 event.

The cynics will say that now he’s found a new wonder drug that can’t be detected but those people just disgust me.

I hope he goes and does it because he is just a great inspiration.

BMX and the Olympic Games

On September 4, 2008 by

The addition of a new sport to the Olympic Games is a tentative process and many get no further than the initial demonstration period. Popular sports such as American football and water skiing have failed to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of their merits and lasted no longer than a year before being replaced. This year’s Olympic Games welcomes another new sport: one with a distinctly modern image – bicycle motocross (BMX).

Athletes participate in BMX in a plethora of different ways. The sport belongs to the same school of extreme sports as skateboarding, snowboarding and motocross, and the events within the discipline range from simple races to the more dangerous Vert event which focuses on style and skill over time or distance. The sport has become increasingly popular with thrill seekers due to its relatively low cost and the fact that it can be enjoyed on almost any surface. Riders actively seek out new terrain and locations to hone their skills, craft their arenas from the urban environment, and may even make their own ramps and jumps.

The Olympic BMX event is a competition of speed in which a number of competitors (eight during the semi-finals and four in the final proper) race around a dirt track complete with hillocks, ramps and tight corners. As such, the event has much more in common with the high octane world of motocross than with snow or skateboarding. The decision to avoid Vert BMX is a consequence of the amount of amateur riders that choose to specialise in the field which, at present, is very low due to the sport’s inherent potential for career-ending injuries. Beijing’s Laoshan BMX venue became the official venue for the five events contested on the 21st and the 23rd of August. The final was scheduled to take place on the 22nd but was postponed due to a spell of bad weather that made the course treacherous to riders.

Despite the dangers associated with the sport, American rider, Donny Robinson, believes that his involvement in BMX racing removed him from other, less desirable theatres: ‘You’re so focussed, […] you couldn’t ask for anything better as a kid. And our sport’s a little cooler.’ Robinson claimed a bronze medal in the men’s BMX final on Friday while British rider, Shanaze Reade, missed out on the podium after taking a tumble in the final. She escaped with minor injuries but was relegated from the competition. The two gold medallists were Anne-Caroline Chausson from France and Latvian rider, Māris Štrombergs.

BMX replaced the long-established time trial cycling event, effectively closing off an avenue of competition to make way for a niche (but very popular) alternative. The inclusion of snowboarding (since 1998, although the events have been altered subsequently) and BMX racing among long-established sports such as boxing and swimming may mark a move towards a more commercialised Olympic games where appealing to a younger, more ‘modern’ audience is paramount for the continuing success of the IOC and of the Games themselves.

Perhaps the most important question to ask of a new Olympic sport is: will it survive the four year hiatus and return for a second run at London 2012? BMX racing received a great deal of media attention over the last two weeks and was lauded as a thrilling spectacle by Reuters, the BBC and Sky Sports who thought that the event was a far-cry from the more disciplined sports that have graced the Olympics for hundreds of years. The success of BMX racing is an important step forward for extreme sports and the IOC may yet welcome skateboarding, surfing, gliding, or other niche events into the Olympic family.

Written by Chris Illingworth