Mountain Biking at the 2012 London Summer Olympics

The mountain biking competition at the 2012 London Summer Olympics takes place over just two days. The 30 women athletes compete on August 11, and the 50 men compete on August 12. This competition actually isn't in London; instead, it will take place at Hadleigh Farm in Essex.

The course in Essex is 4.7 kilometers long and has an elevation change of 172 meters with each lap. Each race begins with a starting loop of 441 meters. The elevation changes, the rocky terrain, and dangerous descents make mountain biking a challenging sport for both the riders and the equipment.

Mountain biking has been part of the Summer Olympic Games only since 1996, but considering the first world championship competition was held in 1990, the sport gained popularity very quickly.

The world ranking of the competitors is important because all riders start together, but they are seeded (placed at the start line) according to their world ranking. Each country can enter three men and two women into the races.

Riders complete a number of laps, and the races last about 1-1/2 hours. The first rider to cross the finish line is awarded the gold medal.

Officials watch the start and finish of the races and are at the technical and feed stations. They ensure the athletes follow the rules and regulations for their own safety and that of those watching.

Mountain bikes, an extension of the riders

Because the course can be so hard on both bikes and riders, technical stations (which double as feed/water stations for the athletes) are placed along the course. Athletes are responsible for making their own bike repairs. Unlike NASCAR or other car races, no pit crew is available, and no yellow flags are issued for crashes.

Flat tires can be caused by hitting rocks, banks, and so on. They can be severe enough to pinch the inner tube against the rim. These are referred to as pinch flats.

The bikes themselves have to be durable and tough but light enough to allow the riders to be competitive. Some bikes have no rear suspension at all; these hardtail bikes sacrifice comfort for speed. A bike with both front and rear suspension is a full sus.

The origins of mountain biking

The general consensus seems to be that mountain biking began in California in the 1970s. At this time, two different groups of bikers, the Cupertino Riders from Cupertino, California, and a group from Marin County, California, began modifying their bikes for riding and racing in rough terrain.

Several other earlier individuals and groups also can claim to have started this extremely popular sport. In 1953, John Findley Scott modified a Schwinn World bike for off-road cycling, and in the early 1950s a group of French riders from the Velo Cross Club Parisien developed an early version of the sport.

Perhaps the most fascinating story regarding the origins of mountain biking credits the Buffalo Soldiers with developing the first mountain bikes. This group of African-American soldiers (with a white lieutenant) modified their bicycles to make a round-trip journey from Missoula, Montana to Yellowstone. They were testing the bikes for military use.

If you want to know more about mountain biking, check out the Mountain Bike page on the official website of the Olympic Games. For a full schedule of the 2012 Olympic Games, check out London2012.com.

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