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MELBOURNE, Australia (VN) – In track cycling at least, we should take note of these world championships, because one will not witness such a talent-laden world-class field compete at the Olympic Games in London, now just four months away, as we have here this week in Melbourne.
Why? The UCI, for the very first time, has issued a mandate (via the International Olympic Committee): aside from team events, only one rider per country will be permitted to compete at track cycling events come the 30th Olympiad.
In short, the UCI/IOC wants to artificially showcase how track cycling has developed around the globe even if it’s not the case, and ostensibly reduce total rider numbers per nation.
To illustrate the point, take the top 24 times from the ‘Flying 200’ qualifying round of the men’s sprint Friday (the top 24 riders over the flying 200 meters automatically qualified for the 1/16 finals):
1 BAUGE Gregory (Fra) 9.854 (73.066 km/h) 2 FOERSTEMANN Robert (Ger) 9.873 (72.926 km/h) 3 SIREAU Kevin (Fra) 9.893 (72.778 km/h) 4 HOY Chris (GBr) 9.902 (72.712 km/h) 5 GLAETZER Matthew (Aus) 9.902 (72.712 km/h) 6 KENNY Jason (GBr) 9.953 (72.339 km/h) 7 DAWKINS Edward (NZl) 9.963 (72.267 km/h) 8 PERKINS Shane (Aus) 9.965 (72.252 km/h) 9 BOURGAIN Mickael (Fra) 9.966 (72.245 km/h) 10 BOETTICHER Stefan (Ger) 9.983 (72.122 km/h) 11 NAKAGAWA Seiichiro (Jpn) 10.003 (71.978 km/h) 12 ARCHIBALD Matthew (NZl) 10.034 (71.756 km/h) 13 SUNDERLAND Scott (Aus) 10.040 (71.713 km/h) 14 ZHANG Miao (Chn) 10.061 (71.563 km/h) 15 CANELON Hersony (Ven) 10.077 (71.449 km/h) 16 ENDERS Rene (Ger) 10.077 (71.449 km/h) 17 PERALTA GASCON Juan (Esp) 10.101 (71.280 km/h) 18 BLATCHFORD Michael (USA) 10.118 (71.160 km/h) 19 WEBSTER Sam (NZl) 10.122 (71.132 km/h) 20 WATANABE Kazunari (Jpn) 10.159 (70.873 km/h) 21 MITCHELL Ethan (NZl) 10.163 (70.845 km/h) 22 MAZQUIARAN URIA Hodei (Esp) 10.163 (70.845 km/h) 23 CRAMPTON Matthew (GBr) 10.167 (70.817 km/h) 24 CONORD Charlie (Fra) 10.169 (70.803 km/h)
The first thing that comes to attention is that the top 10 riders posted sub-10 second times, demonstrating just how deep the men’s field is in match sprinting – although this leader board is spread across five nations – and if my memory serves correctly, it was the quickest sprint qualifying session in history.
The second, and far more salient, point is that the 24 best riders came from just 10 countries – meaning 14 of the world’s best sprinters find themselves ineligible to ride the match sprint event at the London Games.
Sir Chris Hoy, Stefan Boetticher, Kevin Sireau and Matthew Glaetzer, for example, who finished 3rd, 6th, 7th and 9th in the match sprint competition Saturday in Melbourne (won by Frenchman Grégory Baugé, who defeated Briton Jason Kenny 2-0 in the gold medal final), clearly all world-class athletes, will be unable to contest one of their pet events in London. (Unless one of their teammates falls ill or is injured, of course.)
Instead, come August 2-7, when the track events will be staged at London’s newly-built Olympic velodrome, you will see the sub-par riders from Poland, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Greece, Ukraine, Colombia, Italy and Trinidad (yes, Trinidad!), in front of a TV audience of billions, eaten alive for afternoon high tea by the likes of Baugé, Kenny and Aussie Shane Perkins.
The IOC and UCI’s idea of having regional champions compete against one another will backfire. Let the lesser riders compete at the Track World Cups but until they’re good enough to challenge for a medal of any color, should they really compete in the world’s most watched sporting event? The only certainty is that they will be reduced to nothing more than laughing stock.
Furthermore, the number of riders per nation competing in the sprint events will remain unaltered from Beijing 2008, because they’ll be required for the either the team sprint or keirin.
People expecting – and paying – to see the very best in the world, therefore, will likely be disappointed until finals’ time.
It’s a mistaken belief that the IOC is some kind of bastion of morality and equality. It is little more than a jungle of bureaucracy where appearance is everything and substance comes a distant second.
Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than a dozen Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story. Follow him on Twitter: @anthony_tan