By John Stevenson and Les Clarke
Cycling's international governing body, the UCI, has decided to drop the men's kilometer time trial and women's 500m time trial from the track cycling program at the Olympic Games.
The move makes room in the Olympic program for BMX, which will be introduced at the 2008 Games in Beijing under International Olympic Committee rules that allow sports to decide which disciplines will have a place in the program. In recent years the IOC has been extremely reluctant to add new sports and disciplines to the Games, citing problems with the total size of the event. In Atlanta in 1996, the team time trial was dropped to allow the introduction of mountain biking to the Games.
However, the kilo and 500m at Athens played to a packed velodrome while the rest of the 2004 Games struggled to gain momentum. The removal of a traditionally popular spectacle is therefore bound to be controversial.
Reigning women's 500m Olympic champion Anna Meares was surprised and shocked at the decision when Cyclingnews spoke to her this morning.
"We haven't been told anything about it," said Meares. "It's news to me, and it would be very disappointing if they cut an event from a sport that is as exciting as track cycling."
Track cycling comprises two groups of disciplines: endurance - represented at the Olympics by the Madison, points race, team pursuit and individual pursuit; and sprint - now reduced to keirin, match sprint and team sprint. But team sprint and keirin are currently men-only events, leaving female sprinters like Meares with just the match sprint.
"It would make it difficult as the women have only one event to chase," said Meares. "I'd be really mad if they actually make these changes. We didn't know it was in the works, unless they had been discussing it and not letting us know." Meares said she had expected that the men's and women's points races would be dropped to make way for BMX.
David Hoy, father of reigning Olympic champion Chris Hoy, was also quick to express his astonishment at the move.
The UCI has, "removed an event which has been an Olympic blue ribbon discipline since the start of the modern Olympics over 100 years ago," said Hoy in an email to Cyclingnews. "This will completely unbalance track cycling."
Hoy believes the disappearance of the kilo and 500m from the Olympics - although they will continue to be part of the track world championships - is a disaster for sprint specialists.
"Endurance athletes have the alternative of riding the road," said Hoy. "Sprinters now have nothing apart from the sprint and keirin, two very similar events and in the keirin, an absolute lottery as to who will win. Nothing to do with athletic prowess or technique or condition. Just luck. The world championships and Commonwealth Games have little commercial worth with regard to sponsorship. There is now no incentive for any youngster to enter a sport with no career structure. All these years of work for the chance to win one lucky or one team medal."