By Sue George
The UCI's national rankings which determine starting spots for each nation at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, were released on Thursday. The numbers, which were compiled from mountain bike races between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2007 placed France and China atop the men's and women's rankings, respectively.
The overall scores were determined by adding each nation's final 2007 ranking to its 2006 ranking. A nation's ranking for any given season was the result of adding together the point totals of its top-three athletes in individual rankings. The teams within the top five of the men's rankings get to send three men to Beijing while the top eight women's teams are allowed to send two women each to Beijing.
Look for three men to represent France (7864 points), Switzerland (7349 points), Spain (5472 points), Belgium (4364 points) and Germany (4353 points). The United States will not be among the teams sending three men. Due to its sixth-placed ranking (4224 points), it will send only two men.
On the women's side, The People's Republic of China came out at the top - it will send two women based on its ranking (7236 points) to the Olympic Games held on home turf. Other teams eligible to send two women will include Germany (6346 points), the United States (6193 points), Canada (6182 points), Norway (4957 points), Poland (4849 points), Russia (4576 points) and Switzerland (4478 points).
Other nations are not out of the running. For the men, nations ranked from sixth to 13th get to send two riders each and nations ranked from 14th to 24th get to send one rider each. For the women, nations ranked between 9th and 18th get to send one rider each.
The nations' rankings are used in the first criterion for selection, but a second criterion, placement at 2007 Continental Championships for Africa, America, Asia, and Oceania (but not Europe), also plays a role. "The UCI will inform the National Olympic Committees at the beginning of January of the number of qualification places they have obtained according to criterion 1 (UCI ranking by nation) or criterion 2 (2007 Continental Championships)."
The UCI's selection document states that per criterion 2, nations finishing in the top two men's rankings or top of the women's rankings for each Continental Championship (if not otherwise qualified per criterion 1) get to send one male or female rider respectively. The UCI will confirm with the federations how many athletes each can send to the Olympics by January 11.
This 2008 qualification system was unlike that for 2004 because it considered points for nations' rankings not just for the year prior to the Games, but two years prior. The change rewards countries for consistency over a longer period of time and it protects traditional mountain bike powerhouses from a lacklustre pre-Olympic year that could be caused by illness or injury suffered by one of its star riders.