Bernard Anderson waited more than 30 years for this moment. After three decades of officiating and championing the sport he loved, BMX was finally on the grandest sports stage in the world. BMX racing made its debut in the Olympics on Wednesday, a long and fruitful odyssey for a sport that began on rolling dirts tracks in California.
Anderson was like a kid in the candy store. All the hard work had paid of with a first-class dirt track in Beijing.
"We started this sport in 1977, it's been a long time coming," said Anderson, the vice president of the American Bicycle Association, the sanctioning body of BMX racing in the U.S.
"It's surreal," he added.
Anderson, along with his father and the ABA president, had flown into Beijing on Wednesday morning and had rushed to the venue to watch the first day of competition for the men and women.
"It's unbelievable," Clayton John, the president of ABA, said. "It's a dream come true."
The reality sunk in when the first riders bolted out of the starting gate and zoomed down the ramp and onto the course. The BMX venue is part of a magnificent bicyling competing complex, which includes the Velodome and the mountain bike course. The crowd — many of whom were Chinese seeing the sport for the first time — greeted them with gasps and applause.
The Winter Olympics already spiced up their Games by adding the half-pipe, freestyle tricks and the Flying Tomato (Shaun White). They recognized where the popularity of winter sports was headed. It was not in curling (no offense to the millions of curlers) but in the exploding culture of snowboard grabs, switch skiing (skiing backwards) and 1080s. The Summer Games have moved slower, letting the X Games be the premier event for extreme sports. No skateboarding, no grinds, no ollies, no big air. And for some, no fun.
But in 2003, BMX was given the stamp of IOC approval. For extreme sports enthusiasts, this was a step in the right direction.
"What I thought was the coolest thing was that the people who didn't know anything about BMX racing were just here because it was the inaugural year and they were psyched about it," Anderson said.
"It jazzes up the Olympics," said Jan Kintner from Seattle. Kintner, along with her son Paul, was here to support her daughter Jill, one of the competitors in the women's division.
"Watching [the sport] go from no clips to clips to now the Olympics, it's just unreal," said Paul, who also races. "The benefits afterward is what we're really going to expect ... It's awesome to get that exposure for BMX. "
Judging by the initial reaction and interest, the sport has a chance of drawing new fans and staying as an Olympic sport. But there's still a lot of work -- and education -- ahead.
Although the stadium was full in the morning -- the first time trial started at 9 a.m. -- the crowd slowly filtered out by noon. There might have been a number of factors -- like the sun beating down on the unshaded seats. But another reason could have been that many Chinese -- many of whom were watching BMX for the first time -- thought the competition was just one long time trial, racers going one by one trying to beat the clock.
Even one cycling fan from San Diego, Randy Van Vleck, called the morning session "boring."
But after the time trials, the men competed in their quarterfinal heats, thrilling the crowd with their speed, jumps -- and crashes. Turn 1 was no man's land as a number of riders, including American Kyle Bennett, face planted on the dirt.
Here's a perfect example of how far BMX has to go in China and elsewhere: one usher attempted to keep spectators from getting too rowdy.
"I know the game is very exciting, but please sit down," she said on her megaphone.
Her repeated pleas fell on deaf ears.
As the first day ended, Anderson and John sat on the bleachers, soaking in the surroundings. Their excitement belied the fact they had just stepped off a transpacific flights hours ealier.
Were they tired at all?
"We're ecstatic," Anderson said.