The Olympic Men’s Sprint – Removing the Elite through over regulation.

The sprint competitions at the Olympics turned out reasonably well, in that the UCI will probably be pleased with the result – the top two riders in the world coming through to the final, and with a relative unknown, Phillip of Trinidad and Tobago coming fourth,  he made sure their one man per country rule did indeed let the ‘weaker’ nations into the fray and didn’t devalue the competition entirely.

However, when we actually look at the competition, it wasn’t particularly enthralling, especially for a sprint competition, traditionally one of the most tension wracked events of the entire games, let alone the cycling. Not one match in any round went to three races – all were decided by two heats, which either demonstrates that the competition knew what they were doing or more likely that the gaps between the competitors were simply too big. There was 0.95 second gap between 1st and 17th in the 200m qualification – good for 6.604kph difference- which is huge by comparison to previous Games and indeed world championships:

Event                                                        Time Gap between 1st-17th    Kph difference              Max speed (kph)        Rounds that went to decider     Winner

2012 Olympics (17 riders)                0.95     (9.713-10.663)               6.604 (8.91%)                     74.127                                       0/8                                    Jason Kenny (GBR)

2012 Worlds (53 riders)                     0.247   (9.854-10.101)              1.809 (2.476%)                   73.066                                      3/8                                    Gregory Bauge (FRA)

2011 Worlds (50 riders)                     0.348    (10.043-10.391)           2.401 (3.349%)                   71.691                                      2/8                                     Jason Kenny (GBR)

2010 Worlds (46 riders)                     0.345     (9.896-10.241)            2.451 (3.369%)                     72.756                                     4/8                                   Gregory Bauge (FRA)

2009 Worlds (44 riders)                     0.384    (9.930-10.314)             2.699 (3.722%)                    72.507                                    2/8                                    Gregory Bauge (FRA)

2008 Olympics (21 riders)                 0.689    (9.815-10.504)            4.812  (6.559%)                    73.357                                     1/8                                    Chris Hoy (GBR)

2008 Worlds (44 riders)                     0.295     (9.992-10.287)           2.066 (2.86%)                       72.057                                     2/8                                   Chris Hoy (GBR)

2007 Worlds  (39 riders)                    0.446     (9.968-10.414)           3.094  (4.283%)                    72.231                                      3/8                                   Theo Bos (NED)

2006 Worlds (43 riders)                     0.327     (10.100-10.427)        2.236  (3.137%)                    71.287                                     1/8                                    Theo Bos (NED)

2005 Worlds (26 riders)                     0.572     (10.192-10764)          3.754  (5.314%)                    70.643                                     1/4                                    Renee Wolff (GER)

2004 Olympics (19 riders)                0.778     (10.177-10.955)         5.024 (7.101%)                     70.747                                    1/8                                    Ryan Bayley (AUS)

2004 Worlds (27 riders)                    0.297      (10.322-10.619)         1.951 (2.797%)                     69.753                                     3/8                                    Theo Bos (NED)

2003 Worlds (26 riders)                     0.356     (10.081-10.437)         2.436 (3.411%)                      71.421                                     1/6 (finals unknown) Laurent Gane (FRA)
Aside from a fun tool for charting the progression of the qualification times etc (which didn’t appear to happen before 2003),  this table should demonstrate some alarming statistics about the Olympics – 2012 was the only major sprint competition in the last 10 years that didn’t feature a deciding match in a sprint, and the gap between the first and last man to enter this most elite of all competitions was 8.9%. Whilst other Olympics in Beijing and Athens show similar increases in the distance between 1st and 17th compared to the World Championships around them, these featured more riders, and so the gap in the London competition is arguably even more pronounced given it is between a smaller group of athletes.

Because of the UCI’s one-competitor-per-country rule, supposedly introduced to ensure more nations could ‘have a go’ as such and spread the international appeal of cycling (the UCI are in love with this idea at the moment), various men were unable to compete in London. To name a few, Kevin Sireau, who rode 9.893 at the 2012 Worlds, Michkael Bourgain (9.966), Rene Enders (10.077), Scott Sunderland (10.040), Maximilian Levy and of course the defending champion, Chris Hoy (9.902). Indeed, a gargantuan 47 riders beat the 10.663 of 17th and last placed rider Zafeiris Volikakis at the Melbourne Worlds, which shows just how much power and talent is avaliable in world sprinting, but that we have sadly been denied of because of the new rules.

No defending champions allowed after the UCI ruling

Of course, being British, it came off rather well, but even we would have preferred to see a competition with Sireau and Hoy also in the competition at the very least. However, once more, the UCI continues to play its games, and its weird love of new regulation has been damaging to the sport for some time. The only truly sensible regulations they have employed over they years was to make the Hour record on standard equipment so that it was the athlete, not the machine or position, that was being tested, and to introduce the use of helmets after spates of head injuries. However, they seem to have carried their belief that equipment is the enemy over to all other parts of the sport.

Which is why riders aren’t allowed tilted saddles (creates more power supposedly), can’t advance their saddles past 5cm of the Bottom bracket (power again), can’t lop the end off their saddles for comfort (UCI think all equipment should be avaliable commercially), can’t add tape to stop themselves slipping on the saddle (ditto commercial availability) and more recently, haven’t been allowed to wear overshoes that extend more then halfway up their calves. Right. Tad anal maybe?

Brice Feillu envokes the wrath of Stephen Roche and sponsor Agritubel by not zipping up his jersey, although it became so infamous everyone seemed to know who the sponsor was because he didn’t zip it up…

Weirdly, this pales in comparison to what Stephen Roche seemed to think were the biggest issues effecting cycling – the horror of unzipped jerseys, drafting cars and race radios. Whilst the race radio debate will go on forever, and the drafting of cars by someone is usually when they’ve crashed and need pacing back, which, sorry Stephen, is perfectly legitimate in my view anyway, seriously, unzipped jerseys? Roche’s argument is that ‘Cycling’s not just about men in Lycra turning pedals, it’s about the performance, public, television, newspapers, sponsors, everybody. Cyclists today believe it’s only about themselves when in fact, if they haven’t got sponsors, if they haven’t got the public behind them, there’s no reason to have guys riding bikes.” True, but saying people can’t unzip a jersey because ‘If you don’t stop it now, they’ll have no jerseys on shortly. They talk about heat, about not being able to breathe. Bullshit. Footballers, every time they score a goal, pull their jersey off, but it was banned because it didn’t look nice. Why do we tolerate it in cycling?’ is beyond a joke. We tolerate it because we’re interested in the event, and we already know the sponsors, and even if we don’t, we’re not stupid enough to not be able to read a jersey just because its flapping in the wind…

The governing bodies really do need to be careful. Medals have already been decided by odd officiating at the Olympics – China lost Gold in the team sprint for something that didn’t even give them an advantage, but then the same officials saw no problem in allowing Perez in the Men’s Omnium to be eliminated twice, a decision that ultimately decided the fate of the silver and bronze medals: had the correct calls been made, different people would be in possession of the prizes. Cycling is about the entertainment, the spectacle, the suffering. Not, as the officials seem to think, the rules. The sooner they realise, the better for us all.

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