05 August 2012

A New Olympic Cycling Event: The Omnium

During the past week or so, I haven't posted much.  One reason is that I've been watching the Olympics.

For some reason, I'm more interested in them this year than I was the last time around (2008) or the time before that (2004).  It may have to do with my having spent some time in London and knowing  of some of the venues in which the Games are being held, as well as other landmarks.  It may also have to do with the fact that I've been home, whereas during the previous two Olympiads, I was away:  visiting old friends in France in 2004 and my parents in Florida (for the first time since I began my transition) in 2008. So, I guess, you could say I was occupied.

While I'm always glad to see cycling, I wish there were more coverage of it.  I guess the networks figured that there would be more interest in the road and track races and the time trial than in some of the other events.  I'm sure that a lot of casual cycling fans wanted to see the time trial because it was contested by, among others, Bradley Wiggins--whose victory in the Tour de France a week earlier was the first by a British rider--and his countryman and teammate/rival Christopher Froome.  And, a lot of Americans probably tuned into the road race because they thought Kristin Armstrong, who won a gold medal, was Lance's ex.

One event that seems to get almost no attention outside of the Olympics--and is unknown to nearly all Americans--is the omnium, in which Lasse Hansen of Denmark won the gold medal today.  (French cyclist Bryan Coquard won the silver and Britain's Edward Clancy took the bronze.)  One could think of it as the hepathlon of cycling, except that, instead of seven events, it has six:

  • A flying lap--This is a race against the clock.
  • Points race--Cyclists score points for sprints that occur every 10 laps.
  • Elimination--This race includes an intermediate sprint every two laps; the last rider is eliminated after each sprint.  Think of it as a kind of Musical Chairs for cyclists.
  • Individual Pursuit--Riders start at opposite sides of the track and race against the clock. (4000m for men, 3000m for women)
  • Scratch Race--This is a straightforward race to the finish line: 16km for men, 10 km for women.
  • Time trial--Each competitor rides the course, aiming for the fastest time.  (1km for men, 500 m for women)
Now, I can understand why most Americans have never heard of it:  It's a new sport in the Olympics and was added to the World Championships Program only five years ago.

It will be interesting to see whether the omnium will be part of future Olympiads.  Even bronze medal winner Clancy says that although it's "great entertainment" and was good for him personally, he feels that winning depends on luck more than it does for other events.  "I don't know whether this fits in with the 'higher, stronger, faster' ethos of the Olympics," he explained.

He may be right about the role luck plays in it.  Then again, the same could be said for nearly all sporting events:  How many winners and runners-up were decided by injuries, illnesses or even weather conditions? Or how many times have people gotten jobs, promotions and even the loves of their lives simply because they were--sometimes unwittingly--"in the right place at the right time?"  Heck, even my students' grades have been determined by factors beyond their--or my--control.


  1. I confess to being one of the people who cares more about road cycling than track cycling. Some of that is accessibility. While nobody will ever confuse me with an athlete, road cycling is something I can do on a variety of bikes, just about anywhere. Track cycling not only tends to require more specialized bikes, but also the small matter of a velodrome, which are few and far between, these days. The other reason, I think, is scenery. I get as much enjoyment watching the places the road races pass through a I do from watching the actual racing. Watching bikes go round and round a track quickly gets boring for me, alas.

    I was pleased that NBC showed most of the women's road race (as well as the men's, the day before), given how little TV time most women's races get. They then blew that by skipping the women's TT and spoiling the result in the middle of the men's. We did get a late-night recap, but only because Kristin Armstrong won gold.

  2. I watched the women's MTB race yesterday where Georgia Gould won the Bronze Medal for US. I suspect no one watches mountain biking much except for me. I have to admit I didn't watch much of the Olympics this year.