USA Cycling Speaks for First Time on Freestyle in The Olympics

Freestyle BMX in The Olympics! As we venture off on this journey into unknown lands, we continue to encounter new faces to help guide the way. Scott Schnitzspahn at USA Cycling recently lent us his brain for insight on the Olympic process. What is governing body? How will riders be selected? When will riders be selected? Is there going to be a training center? Dive in and get some answers!

For those that have no idea, what is USA Cycling and what do they do?

USA Cycling is the National Governing Body (NGB - we like our acronyms) designated by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for the sport of cycling in the United States. Our mission is to develop the sport of cycling at all levels and we support all of the major disciplines – road, track, mountain bike, BMX, and cyclocross. We do everything from supporting, training, and selecting the Olympic Team to grassroots development of bike racing and simply participation in cycling. We are funded by the USOC, the USA Cycling Development Foundation (donors), membership, and sponsors. Like the USOC or any NGBs, we do not receive any federal government funding in any way.

How does all of this filter into The Olympics?

As the NGB, we are responsible for selecting the Olympic Team for all Olympic cycling disciplines. With Freestyle now in the Olympics, we will be creating the qualification system for US freestyle riders. 

The system will be vetted with athletes, the USOC, and other stakeholders to make sure we send the very best American athletes to Tokyo in 2020, Paris in 2024, and Los Angeles in 2028! 

We also will support America’s Olympic hopefuls with funding and training resources so they can be the best they can possibly be.

What is USA Cycling relationship with the UCI?

The UCI (Union Cycliste International, in French) is the International Federation (IF) for cycling sports around the world.  All cycling NGBs from each country, called National Federations internationally, are members of the UCI. The UCI sets the qualification rules for each cycling discipline and country to qualify athletes for international competitions including the Olympics. In late 2018, the UCI will publish how we qualify as a country and then USA Cycling will create the qualification system for US athletes.

 

Currently, what is the outlook on freestyle at USA Cycling?

We are extremely excited about freestyle becoming an Olympic sport. We know freestyle will be a marquee event at the Tokyo Games. 

We also know that the freestyle community is extremely passionate and we want to do everything we can to support participation in the sport while also putting American freestyle riders on top of the podium at the Olympics. 

At the same time, it is important for us to respect and maintain what is special about Freestyle Park and blend the Olympic piece with that.

Who are the guys looking after freestyle amongst USA Cycling?

Within USA Cycling, we have the Elite Athletics department that I head up. We work to make sure our top athletes in each discipline have what they need to win medals at World Championships and Olympic Games as well as support a pipeline of athletes who will win medals in the future. We will work with the freestyle community to create the systems to win medals and support a pipeline within freestyle. 

To name names, our Vice President of High Performance, Jim Miller, has been working for months already with key members of the freestyle community to learn about the sport and where we have opportunities to help freestyle athletes. Jim has a long history of putting American cycling athletes on the podium at the Olympics and believes we will do so in freestyle as well. 

Our CEO is Derek Bouchard-Hall and he has also been very engaged in conversations with the UCI and others involved with freestyle coming onto the Olympic program to make sure that USA Cycling has the resources to put behind the sport when the time is right. Derek is actually related to Eddie Fiola, one of the legends of the sport. 

Jamie Staff is our BMX director and is leading our efforts in freestyle. He’ll be attending the World Championships in China in November. 

And, while still to be determined how we do it, or even what we try to do, USA Cycling also wants to support the grassroots development of the sport.  We will be seeking the guidance of the BMX Freestyle community on how we can be most helpful.

Colton Walker

Will you be bringing in any freestyle-specific guys? If so, to do what?

We plan to bring on world class people in the very near future to work specifically with freestyle. These would be “freestyle guys” and do everything from administrative support (entering athletes into UCI competitions, creating and distributing team clothing, providing travel support, etc), accompanying athletes to competitions to support their logistics on the ground with the UCI and the event organizers, and providing high performance support such as access to strength coaches, nutritionists, sport psychology, sport science, sports medicine, and even coaching if necessary.

I’ve heard rumors of USA Cycling hosting a few freestyle events throughout the year. Any truth to this?

Yes. We are looking at how to support a national series of events and a national championship. We know there is a need for more competition opportunities and we want to make that happen.  

Is there any potential for a freestyle training facility in the future?

There is the potential, yes. The USOC provides access to the Olympic Training Center (OTC) and building a park at the OTC or other Olympic training site is a possibility. Along with a park, athletes that train at an OTC would get access to housing, meals, sports medicine, sport science, and recovery services. This is only in the idea stage currently, but we want to make sure our top freestyle riders have everything they need to be successful, so this is one of those resources we could offer to support our riders.

 

Let’s talk about the Youth Olympics. Will the USA have a presence?

The way it works is that the IOC provides each National Federation (the USOC in our case) with a fixed quota of athlete spots.  Unfortunately they cannot provide enough spots for the countries to send a full team of athletes in every event. So, in the U.S., each sport can make a case to the USOC for the spots and the USOC distributes them out to the sports, but not every sport gets a spot. Due to a number of reasons, including the fact that freestyle wasn’t on the Olympic program officially at the time, USA Cycling did not receive any slots. Even though freestyle has since been announced on the program for Tokyo, there isn’t a spot for our riders on Team USA for 2018. Sport Climbing is in the same situation now, too. It doesn’t look good.

Is this 100%? Is there anything we can do to make it happen?

There really isn’t anything we can do unless another sport gives back a slot to the USOC for some reason and they choose to distribute it back out to freestyle.  We are petitioning hard for that if it happens, but we aren’t the only sport asking, so the likelihood of us having a spot on Team USA is very low. I don’t think a spot has ever been returned this late in the process.   

In the meantime, our athletes will compete at the Youth Olympic Games qualifier in China in November and will most likely qualify a spot for USA to the Youth Olympic Games.  But, that only gives Team USA the option of sending an athlete. Since we don’t have a spot on Team USA, we will be forced to turn it down. 

So, sadly, I will say we won’t have a presence at this Youth Olympic Games, but we will keep asking and we plan to be there in 2022! 

You don’t foresee any similar issues taking place at the 2020 Olympics, do you?

Not at all.  For the Olympics, if we qualify a freestyle spot for Team USA, we are going! There are no team size limits for the Olympic Games as there are for the Youth Olympic Games. There are discipline quotas that limit the amount of total athletes competing in the Games though from each sport. We’ve heard that there will only be nine freestyle riders of each gender competing in the Games and most likely only one of each gender from a country. Because of this, we must have a good plan to have our athletes compete in the UCI freestyle competitions in the next few years so that we qualify both men’s and women’s spots for the Games.

Daniel Sandoval

As of right now, what is the path to select a US rider for The Olympics?

Well, as I mentioned, first we need to qualify a Team USA spot for the Olympics. We won’t know the exact system from the UCI until at least late next year when the IOC approves their system. Once we know that, athletes will need to participate in that system to earn enough points to qualify not only the USA a spot, but to possibly make themselves eligible for selection to the Games. We haven’t decided on our system for selecting our athletes to fill those spots yet. Options include holding an Olympic Trials where it’s winner take all to make the team, a points system where the most consistently winning athlete makes the team, or a combination. We are still investigating this, but hope to announce something in the next year.  

This formality is very new to the freestyle world. What advice would you give to the riders who are getting involved with rankings, drug testing, new rules, and everything else that comes along with being a part of USA Cycling for the first time?

Right now, my advice would be to practice a lot, take your sport seriously in how you train, how you eat, how you sleep and recover, and become a student of the sport and the Olympics in general. 

Read the UCI website, the USA Cycling website, and get to know those in the sport that can guide you. For the top freestyle athletes, we’ll be searching for you through competitions, through social media, the new UCI freestyle app, and word of mouth to support you through our resources and make sure you know how to navigate the system. 

If anyone is looking to get involved with the freestyle side of USA Cycling, what would you recommend they do?

I’d recommend you reach out to us by phone or email and come up and say hello at events. We are re-vamping the entire USA Cycling website and will have a section specifically for freestyle soon.  For those interested in going to Worlds, we have a page set up for Worlds registration on our website at https://www.usacycling.org/2017-uci-urban-cycling-world-championships.htm.

Nick Bruce

In closing, could you give us a rough timeline on what we can expect between today and the 2020 Olympics in the United States?

Nov 2017 – UCI Urban World Championships 

2018 – UCI Urban World Cups and World Championships. Possible athlete support programs from USA Cycling for freestyle riders.  

Late 2018 – Announcement of Olympic Qualification criteria from the UCI and Team USA Olympic selection process. 

2019 – Olympic qualification process begins through World Cups and World Championships 

Early Summer 2020 – Selection of Olympic Team, possible Olympic Trials 

24 July – 9 August 2020 – Tokyo Olympic Games

6 comments
  • pwh4130

    10/16/2017 2:04 PM

    The UCI knows nothing about Freestyle BMX. USABMX knows little more. I'm not confident there will be anything beyond qualifying for the Olympic team. For the two riders who will compete it's a huge honor but for the rest of the riders, it will be expensive and not a reflection of what freestyle is, has been or will be. The UCI has taken the fun out of every other form of cycling with their power trip and ego. They should be organizers, not dictators. A national contest series has been needed for years but not with entry fees like the World's had. I just don't see it helping the sport as a whole without the right people making the decisions.

  • Otabmx

    10/7/2017 9:53 PM

    "...take your sport seriously in how you train, how you eat, how you sleep and recover,..."
    is it me or does this sound like the fun factor of freestyle has been completely killed off? Will our worst nightmare come true? Are these guys gonna become those super athletes who only train to get medals and not for the fun of it?...

  • radripperaj

    10/8/2017 8:50 AM

    I wouldnt worry too much about it. These types of people already existed. For some the fun is in training, winning competitions, and pulling the greatest and latest trick. For others its the lifestyle and just having a good time with Their friends. This will not change what type a person is. However, I do see this as a good way to further legitimize the sport to people outside of it.

  • kylecarlson

    10/9/2017 12:47 PM

    Completely agree. This path isn't for everything but, for those who embrace it, this is great. It will never change the fact that there are numerous ways to do what you love.

  • julien

    10/10/2017 4:50 AM

    and peoples seem to forget Olympics is only every 4 years and last 2 or 3 weeks this is nothing

  • flatlandbro

    10/7/2017 9:12 PM

    I am excited to hear for once that there will be structure for Current and future athletes in freestyle event in bmx. Wish x-games had a set structure on how up and coming rider's can enter and qualify

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