≡ Menu

If Cycling Was Swimming

Track cycling begins today with a six-day programme to determine 10 gold medals, five for the men and five for the women. That sounds like a a lot given track cycling is a niche within cycling when compared to the road and its four gold medals but that’s half the fun of the Olympics, to see contests that don’t appear so often. Only if indoor cycling was indoor swimming there would be 32 medals up for grabs and the chance of winning titles multiplies given the repeat chances of comparable efforts.

Here’s the list of the events in the pool:

  • Freestyle: 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 (women), and 1,500 (men);
  • Backstroke: 100 and 200;
  • Breaststroke: 100 and 200;
  • Butterfly: 100 and 200;
  • Individual medley: 200 and 400;
  • Relays: 4×100 free, 4×200 free; 4×100 medley

Two things stand out:

  • The similar distances reward a certain physiological profile over and over again. If you’re a world class swimmer over 200m then you can probably double-up or even triple-up up by doing the 100m and 400m and then there’s the relay races on top too. If swimming was cycling then it’d be like having a 3km pursuit, a 4km pursuit and a 5km pursuit, each would attract some specialists but remain comparable efforts accessible to the same rider; and then there would be a team pursuit across each of these distances
  • The variety and diversity as there’s only true contest to determine the fastest swimmer: the freestyle. After this there are deliberately slower contests, including one where they backwards, the backstroke. Now imagine if swimming was cycling, we’d have our 3, 4 and 5km pursuits and then branch off into slower versions. Is backwards cycling possible? A bit dangerous but you could cross the chain into a figure-of-eight and create back-pedalling contests. It’s still a cycling race but would test slightly different muscle groups and pedalling action. Placing a tongue more firmly into the cheek another competition idea would be to have bikes without opposing cranks/pedals, instead both cranks are mounted in the same position, ie when the drive side pedal is at 3 o’clock so is the non-drive side. This would be inefficient and slower but if swimming can have the butterfly we could have this.

Godzilla vs King Kong
None of this is to knock swimming, even neutrals indifferent to track cycling and pool swimming may look at indoor cycling and see a sport bordering on an oxymoron. Comparisons over which sport is better or more deserving of medals is like comparing cats and dogs or asking who’d win a fight between Superman and Batman, Godzilla and King Kong. If cyclists still want to compare medals it’s not worth worrying about other events, the question is why track cycling has so few?

The last individual pursuit podium from Beijing 2008

Swimming’s governing body FINA hasn’t come under the same pressure to reduce events as the UCI. In recent years the track’s scrapped events, including the blue ribbon the individual 4km pursuit. This happened in 2009 after the UCI’s track programme was reviewed because it offered more medals to men than women and in order to up the count for women they had to scale back the count for men’s events. Out went the individual pursuit, the points race and Madison races from the Olympic programme. It was right to make the medal count equal but was it unfair to do it by reducing the events? Maybe but track cycling is a minority sport with modest participation levels so it can’t stake a claim for many more medals.

If Michael Phelps was a Country
There’s been a stat doing the rounds that if swimmer Michael Phelps was a country he’d sit high on the medals table thanks to 25 medals so far. He’s got an impressive record but this is surely as much a function of his choice of sport as it is his talent and determination? If he’d decided on, say, the pole vault he’d could win 100% of the time but could never hope for the same haul. If track cycling offered as many opportunities as swimming then the likes of Bradley Wiggins or Chris Hoy could sit equally high, Wiggins could feasibly sit higher given he’s won the road time trial gold which, superficially, is like Phelps opting for the open water marathon swim too. Hoy has six golds and one silver are partly because the track does offer several chances, win the sprint and there’s the keirin and so on.

The big difference between swimming and cycling is the zenith of the sport is located in different places. For swimming it’s the pool in Rio and a four year cycle. In cycling it’s far away, a matrix of the Tour de France and the rest of the pro calendar. Greg Van Avermaet’s gold medal in the men’s road race is special but you can bet there’s some bloke in a bar in Belgium – probably Roger De Vlaeminck – saying “that’s nice but, jonge, you have yet to win De Ronde“. Similarly two of the biggest stories in the velodrome are the fortunes of Bradley Wiggins and Cavendish as they’ve become household names thanks to their success on the road rather than characters who pop-up every four years. However this only holds for men’s endurance cycling. For sprint cyclists and for many women the Olympics are the pinnacle for the sport for them, just look at how many women’s road cycling teams see their fortunes and funding linked to the Olympic cycle.

Conclusion
Swimming does seem to offer multiple chances to win medals for comparable, albeit not identical, efforts, even giving golds to deliberately slower methods. With just ten gold medals available on the track and 32 in the pool it’s tempting to look on with envy as green as the water in the diving pool. But that’s only if we measure the value of the sport by gold medals supplied in the Olympics. Good for swimming and FINA but they have a sport that tends to get noticed once every four years while cycling has a rich calendar of races with some events that aren’t just sports events but richly significant socio-cultural events but only for the men’s road endurance side. Having extra gold medals in the Olympics for track cycling would be nice but since participation levels for the track are low the Olympics are unlikely to listen to pleas for more. Instead the big work ahead is to take cycling’s weaker areas like the women’s cycling and create annual, viable opportunities for these.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • mt_jr Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:04 am

    Excellent, a little bit ironic, but with some deeper thoughts on sport in general. Thanks!

  • Gav Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:07 am

    Wouldn’t a TTT be a good start to add to the road programme? Or too difficult as many countries don’t have a full squad? Maybe add a criterium race?

    • Alex Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:54 pm

      TTT, love that idea. How about a small stage race too?

    • bluebike Thursday, 11 August 2016, 5:22 pm

      There was 4-man Men’s TTT in olympic games -92 then it was replaces by ITT (-96).
      It would be nice, if they get that event back.

    • ebbe Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 2:28 pm

      I’m absolutely all for a TTT, but can understand the difficulties

      First, you’d need 4 riders per country for each country. That would eat up athlete numbers allocations for cycling quickly.

      But more importantly, TTT is not something you can “just do” with a team of individuals who typically only share a passport and language, but not their employer/team throughout the year. The reason the TTT Worlds are trade team based is that you need A LOT of time training together in order to (a) perform, but moreover (b) stay (relatively) safe. It’s a bit similar to why a “sprint train” event also would not work with national teams.

      But what about (eg) field hockey or football? These girls/guys also play for different teams throughout the season and then come together for a tournament? Yes, true. But they have more time to prepare together (that’s a calendar thing) and there is much less of a safety aspect involved. Cycling is an extreme sport, and a TTT is extremely dangerous when people can’t trust each other blindly.

      A solution would be to not go by country: Just allow teams of 4 or 5 to sign up, with mixed nationalities if they want to. That way, they can sign up with their own trade team mates. Each individual then gets a medal, not one country. But I don’t see that happening at the Olympics.

  • Clipperton Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:08 am

    I’m no great fan of it, but doesn’t bmx also eat into cyclings allocation?

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:10 am

      Yes is the short answer. The Olympics are keen to embrace “X games” style events like this that bring in a valuable younger audience, there will be skateboarding in the 2020 games for some time the IOC pushed the UCI to become skateboarding’s official governing body (true story).

      • Andy, Prendas Ciclismo Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:42 am

        Wonderful article – eloquently put as usual!

        If the IOC want to embrace a young audience, perhaps they could start with taking a long hard look at the social media restrictions in place!

        Kids these days consume media in a very different way to us lot – so having things like rule 40 to help keep sponsors like McDonalds happy seems like something out of the 1970s!

      • Andy W Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:18 pm

        So when snowboarding was introduced, did the number of skiing events decrease to match it ?

        • Sam H Thursday, 11 August 2016, 4:45 pm

          Winter olympics does not yet have the same pressure to reduce athlete numbers, it is a much smaller event than the summer games

        • ZigaK Friday, 12 August 2016, 8:43 am

          Actually it increased – for example, they added ski cross in 2010, ski slopestyle and ski halfpipe in 2014.

    • Lenny Bernstein Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:38 am

      I guess by the same token, you could include synchronised-swimming, diving and even water polo as all ‘pool-based’ sports, and mountain biking, BMX, road-cycling and track as ‘bike-based’ sports. And triathlon combines both disciplines!

      • Nick Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:46 pm

        Actually, diving and water polo are part of “aquatics”. For some reason synchro is separate. No idea where synchronised diving falls.

        • Anonymous Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:24 pm

          Very close to its partner?

          • Chris E Dub Thursday, 11 August 2016, 2:35 pm

            *doffs cap*

          • gringo Friday, 12 August 2016, 11:15 am

            whoa hey!

      • Matthew Thursday, 11 August 2016, 4:44 pm

        Yes hadn’t considered diving and waterpolo under the swimming banner – FINA seem to have overall control of these events in the same way UCI do over all cycling disciplines. If you count Road cycling events (RR & TT), BMX, Mountain biking, Track, then total number of medals = 18. Closer to the 32 on offer for swimming, but much lower if you consider all activities conducted in the pool.

        Makes you think that there could be room for Downhill MTB and maybe a team time trial, but would certainly like to see individual pursuit return on the track.

        Points race and (to a lesser extent) Madison can be hard to follow, especially with no knowledge of the rules. Maybe understandable that these events don’t feature?

        I think it’s important to have a balanced programme – currently track cycling leaves me hoping for a few more events to added, while the Olympic swimming programme seems to go on and on. Maybe I’d look at it differently if I was more interested in swimming, but from my point of view, I think INRNG is correct in saying that some swimmers can dominate over a variety of distances, resulting in a bit of a snoozefest after a while.

  • Alex Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:13 am

    Greg Van Avermaet’s gold medal in the men’s road race is special but you can bet there’s some bloke in a bar in Belgium – probably Roger De Vlaeminck – saying “that’s nice but, jonge, you have yet to win De Ronde“.

    Made my day! :-))))

    Thank you inrng for the insightful post. Good stuff!

    • Johb Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:39 am

      Yup – I’ve come to believe that the Olympics only really makes sense when it is the greatest prize in the sport, so golf and tennis don’t make sense, but swimming and athletics do. So, I’m not sure men’s road racing should really be there although women’s should. I’m sure most one-day racers would choose Flanders, Roubaix or the Worlds over an Olympic gold. I do understand how this hugely emotionally-rooted argument fails to stand up to either commercial realities or discrimination legislation, but it might help to get my beloved madison back in time for Tokyo?
      Please can we have it back? Please?

      • J Evans Friday, 12 August 2016, 8:07 am

        ‘the Olympics only really makes sense when it is the greatest prize in the sport’ – I feel the same way and always have. It’s weird having sports there – the ones you’ve mentioned, football, etc. – where winning isn’t really that big a deal.

      • Joris Saturday, 13 August 2016, 2:33 am

        The Olympic Road Race is definitely the biggest one-day race in cycling. Greg van Avermaet said he rates this higher than winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and he’s Flemish. Honestly, only the Tour is bigger in cycling. If you asked Vincenzo Nibali before the season what he’d rather win: the Giro or the Olympic Road Race… I think he would have said the Olympic Road Race (especially because he already won the Giro).

        • Vitus Saturday, 13 August 2016, 2:40 am

          Maybe for some riders Olympic Road Race is definitely the biggest one-day race in cycling, especially if they won. For others and majority of fans it isn’t and never will be. Just ask any P-R winner if he want to trade his cobblestone for a Olympic medal.

          We now had one Olympic road race with a challenging course, and others with dull courses nobody nowadays even remember, and now it’s a bigger race than Giro, Vuelta, Lombardia adn M-S-R etc? ROFL

          • Joris Saturday, 13 August 2016, 5:17 am

            Good luck finding me one rider who would rather win Roubaix than the Olympic Road Race. Even someone like Hayman can win Roubaix… Eveyone knows what Olympic Gold is, outside of cycling no one knows what Paris-Roubaix is. I’m Belgian and the reaction to Greg winning the Olympic Road Race is a lot bigger than a Belgian winning the Ronde or Roubaix. It’s simply not comparable.

          • J Evans Saturday, 13 August 2016, 8:18 am

            A thoroughly past his best Vinokourov won in 2012 on a course that was nowhere near worthy of a Monument.
            With the Olympics, it very much depends on the parcours. Plus it doesn’t have the history in professional cycling.
            Of course GVA’s going to say that for now: he’s won the Olympics and not a Monument.
            People assume the Olympics is a big deal just because it’s the Olympics, but whilst P-R is always won on an extremely challenging course, the Olympics isn’t.

          • J Evans Saturday, 13 August 2016, 9:16 am

            Also, Hayman beat one of the best cobbled races riders ever to win P-R – GVA beat Fuglsang.
            Just because the general public know the Olympics and don’t know about cycling’s primary events doesn’t make the Olympics a more prestigious race.
            It’s all subjective, of course, but for me an Olympic and Monument win are roughly equal, although I’d favour a Monument.

          • ebbe Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 2:15 pm

            My observations align with those of Joris. Here in the Netherlands, we’ve given our olympic RR/ITT and Track medals much more attention than any win in a monument or track worlds would ever get. An overall win in a Grand Tour or possibly a World Championship would be the only thing getting the same (or more) attention.

            Anna van de Breggen’s face has been all over the news. When she won any other race (which she has done quite a lot) she’d get mentioned on cycling blogs and if she’s lucky in the “sports news” in TV, but never in the 8 o’clock news.

            Dumoulin’s ITT silver has received more attention than his recent stage and ITT wins in TdF. When he won that stage and the ITT, the first thing people said: “He’s looking good for Rio.” When he crashed out of TdF, the first thing everybody was talking about: “What about Rio?”

            I’m quite sure 95% of the Dutch did not know who Elis Ligtlee was before this last week. Now, she’s all over the news. Laurine van Riessen is a bit of a different story, because she’s already known as a speed skater. But her ‘boarding riding” made the news as well. That would never have happened outside the Olympics.

            The crash of Annemiek van Vleuten in the RR, and “small detour” of Ellen van Dijk in the ITT (both mistakes lost them a likely medal, possibly gold) would have never been reported on (outside cycling blogs) on if it were any other event.

            The whole country’s already getting ready for that BMX medal

            The news that Mathieu van der Poel was trying to secure a spot in the Olympic MTB XC was easily as big as when he wins another CX world cup, which he tends to do quite regularly. Go figure.

            People have been absolutely raving about the course in Rio. Some good (let’s have a race here every year!), some bad (too dangerous). I’ve never seen this much attention for a course in any other race, including Worlds. Admittedly, previous Olympic course have been dull in comparison, but this does indicate how serious the event was picked up this time.

            I do realise much of this is down to the Olympics being in the summer, when news is slow anyway. Still, there’s this element of national pride (disclaimer: I’m personally not a big fan of taking this too far, but can’t deny it exists) involved in the Olympics which you don’t get anywhere else, not even at any cycling Worlds. Now if only there was some kind of “gold” jersey which Anna van der Breggen and Greg Van Avermeat were allowed to wear the next 4 years 😉

          • J Evans Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 3:30 pm

            Ebbe, hype is just hype.
            It’s not meaningful and it doesn’t last.
            As for the kind of jingoism that goes with the Olympics, that’s one of the reasons I’m happy to ignore the entire thing, other than to watch some cycling.

          • ebbe Wednesday, 17 August 2016, 2:12 am

            Hey, cool new word I did not know yet 😉

            (non-native English speaker)

        • Ferdi Saturday, 13 August 2016, 10:34 am

          I had a better opinion than that about Greg Van Avermaet. I expect pro riders to really believe historic cycling is “before and above” anecdotes such as the Olympics. They must defend their sport’s exceptional identity.

          • GB Sunday, 14 August 2016, 5:45 am

            I suspect the people who watch many races and the people who ride in many races maaaay have different opinions of what an ‘exceptional’ race is.

            I’m fine with that. But I’m not interested in patronising GvA for valuing his Olympic medal, as if he’s a newbie who just doesn’t know any better.

          • Ferdi Sunday, 14 August 2016, 11:13 am

            I didn’t speak about exceptional races but about an exceptional sport, so I think you simply didn’t grasp the gist of my comment.

    • irungo txuletak Friday, 12 August 2016, 1:31 pm

      Excellent stuff the Roger De Vlaeminck piece indeed!

  • bikefoolish Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:16 am

    Never thought much about swimming but the different disciplines that are attempts to go slower in some way is very interesting and a bit crazy. Its interesting that so many medals are on offer where in the UK pools are closing all the time or not being maintained. Is this the case in other nations? I am guessing not in the US as they seem to have a significant investment in this area but are top swimmers paid as much as top track sprinter (in sponsorship deals)?

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:18 am

      I looked at earnings to see comparisons and the likes of Phelps, Ryan Lochte etc earn a lot more than a track cyclist but it’s very much a winner-takes-all thing where even some of the finalists in the swimming competitions can earn very little.

      • bikefoolish Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:36 am

        Thanks thats very helpful. I wonder if swimming in the US is like college basketball or ‘Champs’ in Jamaica, perhaps they have a large viewing audience that they bring to the games

        • Gargatouf Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:31 pm

          Before becoming professionals, sports in the US is done at Universities. One of the swimming commentators yesterday was explaining how he studied at Arizona State Uni and competed against other Unis in swimming meets. He explained how they had to travel to Hawaii once for a competition.
          As such, if you are a very good swimmer you will get a grant from a top uni with top facilities, so even if you struggle to find a local swimming pool, at a certain level, you are able to use world class facilities at one of these top Universities. I keep hearing the swimming commentators mention that the US athletes still train at different Universities, however I don’t know if it’s reserved to the elite and Olympians or to anyone.

          • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:03 pm

            The college sport system sits in the place that a tax-funded Ministry/Institute of Sports does in other countries. Typically, each sport has a small number of universities with high level programs, with that being sorted out by competition over the years rather than being centrally assigned.

            The system is helped by the US a much larger talent pool in every sport, so they can have competitive trials rather than a ‘national team’ as such.

            Cycling does NOT have a strong elite system or college system though, with the result being regular bunfights over the organisation and selection of national teams as we saw with their women’s road team for Rio.

    • Vitus Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:04 pm

      You can compare the decline of German success in swimming (they were a leading nation once) to the decline of public pools due to austerity politics here directly.
      So every for years at Olympics you hear loud whining, while in the years between more and more cities close their swimming baths.

      Same goes for German track cycling. You can’t expect as much medals as in the 70’s if there are only 10% of velodromes left….

  • Goonie Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:17 am

    Swimming gets more TV viewers than track cycling.

    I suspect that’s pretty much the end of the story.

    • Adam Bowie Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:40 pm

      That’s especially true in the US, with the Rio swimming events have essentially been timed for US primetime.

      Swimming gets lots of viewers, the US does particularly well in swimming, and NBC pays the IOC the most money for TV rights. Put those together, and nobody is going to be cutting down on swimming medals anytime soon.

      • Larry T Thursday, 11 August 2016, 3:25 pm

        +1

    • Peter Thursday, 11 August 2016, 3:46 pm

      Here’s an interesting 538 article regarding the number on events / medals related to the size of the viewership. Cycling is actually ahead of the curve. Look at soccer, 2 events for the forth most viewed.

      http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/which-countries-medal-in-the-sports-that-people-care-about/

    • Tom H Thursday, 11 August 2016, 5:54 pm

      @ Goonie “… Swimming gets more TV viewers than … ”

      In the USA, couch potato viewers think they, too, could do it & therefore “relate” to it in some sublimal way.
      Typical USA viewer can’t easily relate to cycling … most would be too scared to go faster than 10 MPH, let alone going around corners on a descent.
      Also, the very short duration of swimming events, is geared toward people’s short attention spans. The popular “ball and stick” sports in US have a few seconds of action, followed by minutes of waiting — perfect for grabbing another bottle of beer and deep-fried pork rinds.

      • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:05 pm

        A bit like a cycling race wouldn’t you say? Both Olympic road races had short bursts of action slotting in between flat transitional sectors.

        • J Evans Friday, 12 August 2016, 8:12 am

          But much more difficult to follow and no end result after a few seconds/minutes. Hence, the madison and points races being dropped.
          For the average person, it’s just people on bikes and once you have to listen to an explanation as to what’s happening that remote finger gets itchy.
          I find simple sports pretty dull, but know I’m in the minority.

  • UHJ Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:23 am

    Going slower competitions, great. I once tried a bike with “reverse steering”; handlebars left meant going right and vice versa. Quite an experience.
    Another funny track competition is this one: The Longest Lap, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjOVXgfVZCc

    • bikefoolish Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:41 am

      +1 but +2 if they played the Benny Hill theme tune during the trackstand!

  • StevhanTI Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:29 am

    The six days have (had?) a socio-cultural significance too, which makes it all the more sad that the Madison got ditched from the olympics.

    • Paolo Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:15 pm

      Unfortunately, the Madison got skipped after they screwed TV coverage in the 2008 olympics with a clueless TV director and ditto camera team. It is really one of the best track events, but you need experts to cover it.

      • GB Thursday, 11 August 2016, 2:58 pm

        It’s truly bizarre how many issues in cycling keep come back to ‘people have no idea how to film this’… this doesn’t seem like a problem most sports have? (that I know of?)

      • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:25 pm

        Wrong.

        The Madison got the chop when the event schedule was equalised for the men and women, because it was (and still is) only an official event for men.

        All Olympic sports have a capped quota of athletes these days. The UCI has been informed that they can have extra events, but the total number of athletes cannot be increased.

        Reducing the size of the men’s road race (maximum team of four like the women’s race, down from the current five) a bit would allow for 2020 to add a men’s and women’s Madison with roughly the same total size of the cycling quota. The qualifying teams would be allowed to select one extra endurance track rider on top of their existing allocation for the team pursuit and omnium.

  • Andyspex Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:33 am

    How about a mixture of the two, a Pedalo race.

    • Augie March Friday, 12 August 2016, 4:33 am

      Chris Froome would probably boss that with his crazy high cadence.

      • BenW Friday, 12 August 2016, 2:16 pm

        Scope for Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff to step away from the chip wagon, too.

  • Sidamo Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:36 am

    I think the UCI’s problem is that they were far too late in diversifying and also in making women the equal of men. As a result, when they wanted to add events the Olympics were already at bursting point in terms of numbers of athletes competing, so there were moves afoot to limit numbers. Hence the “one-in, one-out” principle was enforced.

    The second major issue is that swimming is the biggest Olympics drawcard behind athletics, so it has a lot more clout with the IOC.

    • Kevin Diller Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:47 am

      Actually soccer is the biggest draw.

      • Nick Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:44 pm

        Although a large factor in that must be the fact that it has loads of matches taking place in large stadia spread throughout the host country. So represents a way of “watching the Olympics” for people who can’t easily get to the host city itself.

        In terms of TV viewers per minute of coverage, football’s in the middle of the pack.

      • Michael F Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:59 pm

        If you read the TV viewing hours from the International Federations Report from the IOC, soccer isn’t – https://stillmed.olympic.org/Documents/Commissions_PDFfiles/Programme_commission/RIO2016_International_Federations_Report.pdf

        Soccer’s 1,300 million viewer hours is behind Gymnastics, Swimming and Track and Field.

        Cycling – all cycling apart from the middle of the triathlon – had 563.5 million viewer hours

      • Vitus Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:09 pm

        Olympic soccer is everything but drawcard. It’s a level 4 competition with no meaning in this sport and there’s no serious point to have soccer at the games.

        • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:16 pm

          It’s important for the women’s scene though.

          • Vitus Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:31 pm

            Okay that’s true.

  • rupert Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:38 am

    loads of points on this – i really don’t think swimming 200m and trying to do 400 and 100 are a good comparison to pursuits of 3k 4k and 5k.

    100m swim is really just a sprint, going as hard as you can. 400m is completely different – a much more measured effort. As such a 200m swim rewards swimmers who can develop an economic style.

    I get the point about a 4 year cycle of sport and the amateurs that make the final but aren’t superstars not being big money earners but my take on the medal allocation is a lot simpler. 99% of people in the western world have been in a pool, attempted the different strokes and can relate to it. Even readers of this blog have to admit that most of the people they know haven’t been in a velodrome let alone tried to cycle round one.

    Common place sports that have no “professional” element should be the main part of the olympics – I for one think that swimming deserves a big medal haul.

    (comparing Phelps to a country is pretty stupid though)

    • Kevin Diller Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:48 am

      Phelps is a full out professional.

    • Michael F Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:05 pm

      From where I am, I could drive to an indoor velodrome in under half an hour. The nearest 50 metre pool is over an hour away.

      I’ve had a go at the velodrome. I’m rubbish. Not as bad as I am at swimming, though.

      But I know a lot more people who cycle than swim. So by that standard we might lose the velodrome, but we’d have to have more MTB events, a small circuit crit event, hill climb, etc.

    • Davesta Thursday, 11 August 2016, 3:35 pm

      Agreed – if we look at the time taken to complete the event, the 100m is more comparable to the kilo (c.1min of effort), whereas the 400m is comparable to the 4km pursuit. The 1500m would be closest in comparison to the road time trial, given it’s a 14-15min effort…

      • The Inner Ring Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:55 pm

        Fair enough but the 200m in between and then all the different stroke types getting rewards? Still the main point is good for swimming if they enjoy this, cycling needs to work on improvement in many areas outside of the track.

      • Chris James Friday, 12 August 2016, 11:20 am

        I don’t know much about swimming (my technique looks more like sinking than locomotion). But if the various distances are so different to each other then that clashes with my perception that the same athletes often win across various swimming distances.

        Jason Kenny is never going to win an individual pursuit, but it feels like the swimmers manage it.

        • JH Saturday, 13 August 2016, 12:08 pm

          I’d be interested to know the ratio of medals to number of entrants. So much doubling/tripling/quadrupling of entrants seems to go on in the swimming.

          There’s an element of that in the Cycling, but not so much.

          Given that there is a limit on number of entrants in each broad discipline, swimming, cycling etc, it is this factor that probably lies behind the number of medals awarded.

          Get rid of the road race, with scores of competitors, and you could have a lot more different events 😀

  • AtTheBorderGuy Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:47 am

    Regarding backwards cycling, I saw a couple of guys riding up Alpe d’Huez on a pushmi-pullyu-style tandem a few years back. A dual-facing mountain time-trial for Tokyo 2020 anyone?

  • Joshua Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:47 am

    hmmm, insightful as usual, but can I claim that great minds think alike on this? (and dibs?)
    https://www.facebook.com/joshua.lee.739326/posts/1222384914460777?pnref=story

  • Anonymous Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:49 am

    Add more track events and drop those two dull TT from the road scene.

  • Alastair S Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:56 am

    I always thought (without any supporting evidence) that the disappearance of the individual pursuit & the Madison was punishment for cycling’s doping culture at that time.

    And it is crazy that downhill MTB’ing isn’t in the Olympics.

    With regard to swimming you have missed out the 10k event that was introduced in 2008.

    • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:44 pm

      The change in the Olympic track program was because the sport was forced to equalise the number of men’s and women’s events.

      The decision on which events to select for the 2012 program onwards was made by the UCI Track Commission, not the IOC.

      And in 2008 when swimming added the open air 10k, cycling was allowed to add BMX the same year. Athlete quotas have been capped for both sports since then though.

  • Dr Manhattan Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:11 pm

    If cycling was swimming, would fish ride bikes?

    • Mike Friday, 12 August 2016, 4:06 am

      ha ha. made me smile

      • Ecky Thump Friday, 12 August 2016, 11:45 am

        Or Chris Froome in a pair of speedos?

  • jollygoodvelo Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:14 pm

    Interesting. I’ve had similar thoughts before – given that the Olympics contract requires a host to build a whole new top-spec velodrome at significant cost, it’s faintly ridiculous that only 10 gold medals are awarded. In London the relatively few tickets (compared to the athletics stadium) were like gold dust and they could have sold out the place running a ten-day programme of madisons, 100-lap scratch races, 25km team pursuits and much else besides.

  • Angus Macdonald Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:38 pm

    The selling out of the velodrome in London reflected the strong showing of UK in the sport – might not necessarily be repeated in future Olympics without a track culture

    • Larry T Thursday, 11 August 2016, 6:52 pm

      Exactly right Angus. And the argument can go both ways as I’ve heard questions asked about the costs of building an expensive velodrome to host a sport offering just 10 gold medals. If sport in developing countries is a concern, cycling in a velodrome on these insanely expensive track machines is very hard to justify. The US machines in Rio with cranks on the “wrong” side are a perfect example, though the Brits are probably as much to blame as anyone – but the 1996 USA Atlanta Olympic “Superbike” fiasco comes to mind as well – that ridiculous expense netted a whopping total of: 0 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze medal for the US track cycling contingent – in their own country.

      • Touriste-Routier Friday, 12 August 2016, 1:43 pm

        And the Velodrome in Atlanta had hundreds of vacant seats each day.

        • BenW Friday, 12 August 2016, 2:26 pm

          It also depends on the people involved, too. Team USA’s basketball matches look like sell-outs, it’s a two tier arena and the match vs Australia was packed. I caught part of Nigeria vs Spain last night (the Spanish aren’t bad at all, several top-name NBA players involved), same timeslot as the USA v Australia match the night before, and there were seemingly fewer than 100 spectators visible down the side of the court in the lower tier you could see on TV. And zero in the way of chanting or atmosphere. It was interesting that you could hear the players yelling to each other though – like a football match played behind “closed doors”.

  • Nick Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:42 pm

    re: swimming being a once every 4 years event, it’s worth noting that, according to https://stillmed.olympic.org/Documents/Commissions_PDFfiles/Programme_commission/RIO2016_International_Federations_Report.pdf, the FINA world championships have a larger media attendance than cycling’s track and MTB worlds, though less than the road worlds.

    If Michael Phelps was a country, I reckon he’d struggle in the relays.

  • Alex Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:48 pm

    Some parallels with track athletics as well:
    100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, 42km, with each adjacent distance pair a cross over medal chance for athletes of relevant physiological characteristics (plus long and triple jump often has cross over with the sprinters). Hurdles are a specialist discipline though.

    Race walking and swimming (other than freestyle) are the only sports I can think of where you can get gold medals for not going the fastest you can.

    • Cilmeri Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:29 pm

      110m hurdles? Surely just an exercise in slowing your speed from A to B? You could define them as slower events, or as events designed to test other aspects of an athlete’s physiology / skills?

      • Alex Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:31 pm

        Well I figure that being fastest at running and being fastest at running an obstacle course as being reasonably different.

    • AlexG Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:59 pm

      hmm, I believe Carl Lewis to be the record holder of the most-decorated athlete at a single Olympic Games with four Golds in LA, 1984. Michael Phelps by comparison has peaked at eight Golds in Athens.

    • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:07 pm

      Cycling is another, in every Olympic format except BMX.

    • ebbe Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 1:33 pm

      You’re correct Alex. Let’s not confuse “using deliberately awkward technique on a normal course” with “getting across a deliberately awkward course using normal technique”.

  • Andrew Thursday, 11 August 2016, 12:54 pm

    Swimming is a huge youth sport here in the States. Huge. Parents hauling kids to pools at 4am. Competitive cycling is almost non existent as a youth sport. No one worries their kid is going to get run over in the pool. Track cycling basically doesn’t exist.

  • Stephen Tannenbaum Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:23 pm

    As someone who grew up swimming I can assure you that there’s a big difference between 100 and 200 meters let alone 400. It’s a relatively new phenomenon that a swimmer can dominate at multiple distances.
    I would also tell you, respectfully, that the “slower strokes” are generally far more technical than freestyle and different athletes find their niche pretty early in life. That does not make them any less fun to watch if you understand what you’re seeing. Your comments are a bit odd given the fact that track events often involves 2 guys literally not moving.

    • Alex Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:39 pm

      Track match sprint is not about being the fastest over a set distance, it’s about who (legally) crosses the finish line first. Often the slower rider wins because they posses greater skill/craft/cunning. Of course you need to qualify for match sprint rounds which is a TT.

    • Anonymous Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:47 pm

      Absolutely agree. A strange way to look at things. I never swam in competitions, but I watched many meetings, World and European Championships (may it be short course or normal Championships) and Olympic Games over the years and thus have accumulated a bit (theoretical) knowledge about swimming. And I can absolutely understand every swimmer who gets annoyed by this piece.

      • Ecky Thump Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:17 pm

        Yes, I agree with you both. Odd comparison to make, albeit partly tongue in cheek.
        And odd to hold Phelps as some sort of standard, when the guy is a force of nature, probably a sporting genius. A butterfly specialist who is good enough to hold his own in freestyle too, particularly team relays.

        A couple of further points ;
        – the doubling up of events may get harder as events increasingly become specialised and the world records are improved. For instance, in track and field, you would think athletes like Bolt could do a 400m or Rudisha a 1500m but they can’t commit to the extra training required.

        – a possible reason for the strong Olympic legacy that swimming holds, like track and field, is the strong amateur ethos that used to run through them (the British Athletics Champion used to be the Amateur Athletic Association Champion (AAA)) and there was an excellent hierarchy competition structure from school ages through to seniors in both sports – club, county, region, country, European, Commonwealth, World, Olympics. A natural path way, if you like, that still exists, in UK at least anyway.

        • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:40 pm

          The 400m in athletics is the equivalent of the 200m in swimming, the crossover event that is long for a sprinter and short for a middle distance runner.

          There is absolutely no way that Bolt could do a 400m.

          • Ecky Thump Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:13 am

            As a sub 20″ 200m runner, he could do 400m in theory. The 400m world record has progressed to where it’s basically not far from four ten seconds 100m repeats.
            He’s got the physical capabilities, huge stride length.
            But that’s the issue, Inning’s point about doubling up is not actually as simple as it sounds.
            Each event is very different in its demands.

          • Alex Friday, 12 August 2016, 7:37 am

            The physiology demands of a 400m runner are somewhat different to that of a sprinter. The metabolic energy systems are taxed in significantly different ways, including a not insignificant aerobic contribution (~1/3rd of energy demand) which not required in 100m sprinting.

            I don’t think we can assume a pure sprint athlete will be able to ever match world class 400m runners. It would require quite a change in training and even then they may just not have the balance of inherit physiological attributes to be a winner. Could they run a fast 400m? Sure. Could they be the best? I doubt it. Would it screw their sprint? Absolutely

          • Ben Friday, 12 August 2016, 11:52 am

            Bolt has recorded a sub 44 second relay split in the past…

        • Chris James Friday, 12 August 2016, 11:33 am

          As a non swimmer I’ll take your word that different strokes are for different folks (blast from the past TV there), but before Phelps there was Ian Thorpe (6 golds in one Olympics), Mark Spitz (7 golds in one Olympics) and Matt Biondi (5 gold medals in one Olympics) so huge medal hauls for swimmers seem quite common. I guess Phelps is very different due to his longevity.

          • CM Saturday, 13 August 2016, 11:53 am

            @Alex
            Michael Duane Johnson?

    • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:08 pm

      100% agree.

      The 200m races are the most interesting, because they are a crossover between the sprint and middle distance races.

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:01 am

      I agree on the technical points but that’s the point, it’s not just a reward for being the strongest/fastest but then sub-categories for technical strokes that are deliberately slower. But the main point isn’t to snipe at swimming, comparing the medal count probably isn’t the issue because swimming counts a lot on the Olympics whereas in cycling the Olympics and even the Worlds are but a tiny share of the audience.

      • N Friday, 12 August 2016, 7:05 am

        I don’t exactly understand why or where this odd “the fastest” argument comes from. As if every sport would have just one objective:To be the ultimative fastest of all. And everything else is just nonsense. Luckily people are more open minded. They try out different techniques, new ways, for example they don’t play tennis just one on one but with a partner or they ski down a hill not the straight “fastest” course, but have other difficulties they try to master and then they compete with each other. That is human. We like to play. We like to try. We don’t function like machines and always take the fastest, most efficient approach.

        Or to go outside sport:People are not only allowed to paint, when it is done in the most realistic way. People want to and are allowed to express themselves in very different ways to the best of their abilities. At least luckily today it is this way (though times may change again, if one looks at the world). I maybe understand that this piece might have been meant to be a bit funny and I understand the idea that comparing sports doesn’t make much sense. But the underlying mockery and belitteling of another sport and the deliberate misunderstanding of it is odd and lacks respect.

        I am sure non-cycling-fans find road races a very strange, non- realistic exercise. For example: Riders go in a break, that has absolutely no chance to survive. Why go then at all? It is absolutely nonsensical. For the tv-viewers? Not really, as there is no meaning to a few men pedalling in front of a race for a few hours, knowing they have no chance to succeed. And cycling fans, who make most of the tv-viewers in non-GTs-know that. For tactical reasons? Not very often in these days of “last 3km-action”. For fans roadside? They cheer the peloton as much as single riders or the grupetto and often don’t know the actual unfolding of the race.

        So why go in the break? Sometimes is sheer boredom that drives the breaks. Or riders use a race as training. And of course the fact that road racing leaves no crumbs other than a monthly pay-check for the vast majority of the peloton. Even riders dare to say it loud these days. They go in a break, like others go to the office – because it is their job. Someone has to do it. What else should they do. Why? For what? Who cares. It long has become in some way a travesty of a sporting competition, if you look at it with cold eyes.

        I quote from Ferdi’s comment and agree: “… cycling fans have no business commenting on it [swimming- of course]. I don’t know how many medals are given in rowing or shooting, and I couldn’t care less…”

  • Cilmeri Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:26 pm

    Isn’t the issue time? ie the reason some events were dropped when they equalised the amount of gold medals between men and women was because the track programme as a whole had to fit into an allocated time slots, so only x amount of events could be fitted in so something had to go.

    I haven’t checked, but If we presume that the swimming meets had the same amount of time allocated at the olympics as the track cycling, then surely you can fit in more events and more gold medals because you can fit 8 people in a pool at a time, so although the 400m freestyle takes roughly the same amount of time to complete as a 4km team pursuit, you can fit more competitors into less heats.

    • Alex Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:42 pm

      Well that might have been the case except they added Omnium in place of a single event. When you build a $50M venue you’d hope it might get used for more than a couple of races.

    • ebbe Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 1:20 pm

      I was thinking the same. Thee is no (racing) swimming event in which one (or two) swimmers occupy the entire pool. Also, most swimming disciplines just inherently take less time to complete one “heat” than most cycling disciplines do. That’s inherent to cycling, since it’s the most efficient manner of human powered propulsion: Athletes can simply travel greater distance per second, and also keep up the effort much longer.

      So they could just fit more swimming medals in three weeks. But should they? That’s a different question.

      ps, OK, open water swimming is an incredible 2 hours!!! – but open road cycling is much longer still

  • J Evans Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:38 pm

    The most interesting races on the track – madison and points – aren’t in it.
    The keirin and sprints are worth watching, but I’m bored by races against the clock.
    Clearly, the reasons for the differences between cycling and swimming are political and/or financial.
    And the track cycling events (all of them) have a lot more variety than swimming – not just in length, but in types of race, which you would have thought people would like, but people like things they can understand easily.
    As for the road, the Olympics isn’t even really necessary – we have the WC.
    And that Belgian would be right: GVA’s result is fantastic, but it’s still not as good as a Monument.

  • Andy W Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:38 pm

    Track cycling is a tiny minority elitist sport, why should it have lots of medals ?

    How many countries around the world have a velodrome (even a scruffy outdoor concrete one, not a proper indoor air-con’d Siberian pine-boarded one ) ?
    It’s a sport limited to a few rich countries in Europe, North America, developed Asia

    Swimming – well not the full-on Olympic std facilities, but most countries have the sea or lakes, in the same way that all countries have the capability to build grass running tracks for athletics.

    However, many other Olympic events are similarly elitist (many those which we in Britain win lots of medals in) – rowing, equestrianism, etc

    And you can argue it the other way that the reason we’re crap at Winter Sports is that we don’t live in an Alpine or Scandanavian country – which similarly is limited to just a few nations at the top, Jamaican Bobbers included !

    • Jackal Thursday, 11 August 2016, 8:03 pm

      I know this site is in English and thus has a higher number of UK, US and Australian readers…. and that this post will piss some folks off.

      In the US, track cycling is a total fringe sport. Outside of seeing it in the olympics and having it add to the medal count – most americas (99%+) could care less about it.

      Cycling – road, MTB, and bmx are participation sports whereas – track shares the bicycle aspect with the others – but it is by and large hard to participate in with a very very small number of athletes. It is basically a sport for a limited few that live near a velodrome – besides for betting in Japan.

      Road cycling and MTB – are mass participation sports – coming from the health and transportation perspective. The counter argument is that it is the outlet for those that like to sprint but don’t have big endurance. (like BMX).

      BMX riding is more popular among the kids that live in the suburbs, but obviously less accessible than skateboarding. Downhill MTB biking, is a sport that has limited access, and high dangers associated with it – I don’t think it should be an olympic sport.

      One could rightfully make the case that road cycling and MTB are underrepresented – vs track cycling in a massive ratio of like 100:1. Does it really deserve that many medals?

      Who really cares about track cycling ? UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and then some interest in the other Norther European countries…

      As has been pointed out – it is sport to get medals in from a data mining perspective. Likely higher rate of medal return versus outlay/effort. Few competitors, big cost barriers in the velodrome thus restricting smaller nations, technology advances that be kept secret from poor countries.

      • Vitus Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:18 pm

        “In the US, track cycling is a total fringe sport.”
        It wasn’t back in the decades when the US was a mecca for Six days. “Madison” is named like that for a reason.

    • cthulhu Thursday, 11 August 2016, 10:16 pm

      But because a handful of nations have a huge advantage scratching individual disciplines makes them even more exclusive. True, not everybody has a track just around the corner, but nobody starts on the track. But it is an invaluable part in the development of a rider in my opinion and some people are just cut out for the track. And for good riders from places without these opportunities is the UCI development centre, but without the chance to show off their strengths and abilities and increase popularity in their home nations , because there are not enough to form a team, is not helping to open this exclusive circle.

  • bswh_ Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:45 pm

    Nice article, thanks.

    Pedantic point: it’s ‘blue riband’ not ‘ribbon’

  • Andy W Thursday, 11 August 2016, 1:53 pm

    And it’s all very well talking about Phelps as a country and how you can cross-over between events in the pool, but that was always true of the track

    Hoy won 6 golds and a silver crossing-over between Sprint, Team Sprint, Kilo and Keirin

    Wiggins won 4 golds, a silver and two bronzes by crossing-over between pursuit, team pursuit and madison (though he did win one of those golds in the Road TT)

    These two are regularly described in the media as ‘Great Britain’s most successful Olympians’ because they have 7 medals.

    But I consider Steve Redgrave’s achievement in winning gold in 5 successive games, entered in only one event with no crossing-over, to be far greater.

    Both have more medals than Steve Redgrave

    • J Evans Thursday, 11 August 2016, 2:29 pm

      I regard individual medals as being of far higher value than team ones.

      Explained here:
      https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2011/may/21/steve-redgrave-olympics-torch-2012

      But the highlights:

      ‘… rowing is not inherently a team sport. Single sculls is where the real individual glory lies, the blue-riband event. Redgrave tried it, but with contracted success… the fact remains the Greatest Ever has five relay golds – but no individual 100 metres.’

      This is it for me – ‘Perhaps Redgrave and the multiple Other Dudes [he rowed with] might instead be happy with a team gold: one per boat. Under this system Redgrave would have two quarter golds plus three halves: a total of two full gold medals.’

      I’d apply that to the team pursuit in cycling: give them a quarter of a medal each.

      And now to don my flame-retardant suit.

      • J Evans Thursday, 11 August 2016, 2:47 pm

        More succintly, if you win an individual pursuit or TT (let’s say in the WC) you are the best. If you win one as part of a team that is not necessarily the case. Therefore, the victory is of a lesser worth.

        • Anonymous Thursday, 11 August 2016, 3:04 pm

          Is it also true that a rider gets a gold medal if they only ride in a heat of the pursuit (and the team goes on to win, without them)?

          • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:10 pm

            Yes.

            Same with all Olympic team events.

          • J Evans Friday, 12 August 2016, 8:05 am

            That being the case, surely no-one would see such a medal as being of the same worth as one awarded for an individual effort.

      • MattF Friday, 12 August 2016, 10:52 am

        How then J Evans would you characterise road cycling – team sport or individual effort? Should Van Avermaet share his RR gold medal with Gilbert and other team mates?

        • J Evans Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:18 pm

          Someone suggested this below – and someone pointed out some flaws with the idea. But I think it might well be the way to go.

          Your point does show up the double standard here: GVA’s team mates get nothing, yet someone who rides a heat in a team pursuit gets a medal.

          • J Evans Friday, 12 August 2016, 3:13 pm

            It was cd who suggested it.

  • JC Thursday, 11 August 2016, 2:30 pm

    Great article INRNG as always. I’ve been discussing this with friends recently too and it always seems to go round in circles or back ‘n’ forth…..hah

    Interesting talk about women’s cycling – wonder if you have any ideas about improving exposure to the sport – a possible post in the future perhaps? 🙂 (Or maybe an old post i missed…?)

    JC

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:05 am

      That’s coming sometime, several ideas and thoughts on the topic. By good fortune I was able to visit the Route de France stage race today, it amounts to France’s largest women’s stage race but it’s far short of a women’s Tour de France. A report and thoughts in the coming days hopefully.

      • GB Friday, 12 August 2016, 3:19 am

        I’m looking forward to this but I’ll be bringing a paper bag to hyperventilate into; you’re fine but that subject tends to drag all the patronising jerks and wannabe comedians out of the woodwork and into the comments :\

  • bob Thursday, 11 August 2016, 2:48 pm

    It’s down to anglophobia, Brits were winning too much gold

  • Jorge Thursday, 11 August 2016, 2:57 pm

    Insightful as usual. Cycling is only 1/3 of thriathlon, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a sprint and perhaps a half or full “ironman”?

    • CA Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 6:40 pm

      Definitely not, sorry.

  • ocaz Thursday, 11 August 2016, 3:07 pm

    This particular line resounded with me:

    “Good for swimming and FINA but they have a sport that tends to get noticed once every four years…”

    I love watching the swimming at the Olympics (I’ve even been setting my alarm to watch particular races in the middle of the night), but I only ever watch and follow it closely at the Olympics. Over last few Olympics I’ve liked to watch the history being made by Phelps in particular.

    I would never really watch swimming as a sport outside of the Olympics.

    That said as Rupert made some great points above, swimming is more accessible and people can easily relate to the skill and technique of people like Phelps than say riding track. As someone who has tried to improve as a swimmer, it is insanely difficult to master with so many aspects you need to hone in order to improve. On paper the distances might not seem a huge leap but require much different skills.

    On the note of track, would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in a room with Cav and Wiggins right now.

  • Looking over my shoulder Thursday, 11 August 2016, 3:13 pm

    That IOC report linked above shows some scary numbers for TV production costs.

    You can get more than four hours of swimming for the cost of one hour of road cycling (and the mountain bike costs are even worse per hour). TV coverage at London 2012 cost just under EUR1m per day for the road events.

    Given that the Games are ‘made for TV’ and those rights drive so much of the IOC income such stats are relevant.

  • cd Thursday, 11 August 2016, 4:04 pm

    Off topic, but I started to think the Olympic RR should be team based, with whoever wins, their whole team gets golds. So Gilbert and De Plus would get golds. We always say it’s a team sport and it was clear how teammates made such significant sacrifices during the RR (like Cummings and Armstong) that they should share in the glory. At least at a pro race they can get paid. There’s no reward for Gilbert in this instance. Also the thought that VdB in the women’s race was going to have to sacrifice her chances for van Vlueten (pre-crash) seemed unfair.

    I think it would also create a more interesting race that way.

    • O L Thursday, 11 August 2016, 6:13 pm

      Interesting idea, but could throw up some problems. What if a nation gets a 1-2? The whole national team get two medals each? No silver medals are awarded?

      I wonder what the main obstacle to a short stage race is? Presumably a combination of the production costs and overall medal squeeze on cycling? e.g. sailing is already a multi-day event with no prizes for individual race results, which has strong parallels to a stage race with medals for GC.

      I find the small number of track cycling events particularly annoying because there’s not, I think, any pressure on the venue. e.g. I think rowing is limited by canoeing/kayaking needing to use the lake in the second week, various aquatics events use the same pool and so on. You’ve built a velodrome, you might as well use it. It seems hard to argue that this would devalue other sports’ medals, given the presence of equestrian events, race walking and so on.

      (But then again, the continued exclusion of squash as an Olympic sport shows that these things are decided by personal vendettas and prejudice, not logic………)

      • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:13 pm

        The only aquatic events sharing a pool are synchronised swimming and water polo. Swimming and diving each have their own pool.

      • RQS Friday, 12 August 2016, 7:09 pm

        Easy solution to that. The next team to cross the line gets silver. So if Nibali and Aru had finished first and then GVA Belgium come second. But you’re right. It’s a team event relying on individuality.

        Either that, or you take the team model out and just have one competitor per nation. That would make for a very interesting one day race and make the Olympic Road Race a very interesting and unique event.

  • Richard S Thursday, 11 August 2016, 4:19 pm

    I’m not bothered about all the swimming events, they can have as many as they like. At the end of the day they are only devaluing the pinnacle of their own sport. Dropping the individual pursuit was crazy though, the equivalent of the men’s 100m freestyle or 100m sprint being canned. If they were going to get rid of something then the Keirin would’ve been my choice. A national 5 man team time trial would be good. Even small nations have 5 cyclists surely.

    • gabriele Thursday, 11 August 2016, 5:17 pm

      Yeah, agreed, but why is Keirin Olympic…? 😉

      • cthulhu Thursday, 11 August 2016, 9:55 pm

        Japan, care to elaborate..? 😉

        • gabriele Thursday, 11 August 2016, 10:13 pm

          Let’s just throw a random name of a UCI president and “keirin” into Google and let’s see what happens… no, you don’t even need to add “bribery” or “money” (both aspects strongly denied by the UCI). And, in fact, the money would probably be just a collateral detail in the whole transactions being carried out.

          • cthulhu Thursday, 11 August 2016, 10:41 pm

            Thanks, I know.
            I just tried to expand your “joke”

          • cthulhu Thursday, 11 August 2016, 10:45 pm

            But I still wonder their motivation, because it’s not like they win anything. Their top riders all ride their home events earning money and especially earning those bookmakers money which is why the riders won’t get off for the Olympics.

          • The Inner Ring Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:08 am

            It’s the prestige, having a Japanese event in the games is good.

            For people wondering what all the hints and smiley faces are about, have a read here:
            http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7525072.stm

          • Dave Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:49 am

            The Japanese keirins are good for the top international riders too, they’ll get to go over there and supplement their poor income just like cricketers going to the IPL.

            Regardless of the circumstances surrounding its introduction, I think the keirin should stay in international competition as it’s a great event that the rest of the world has properly embraced.

            Shall we also chase the Madison out of international competition because American gangsters used to bet on them?

            Replacing the team sprint with the track time trial would be a better swap to make with the track events. Men’s sprint teams could be downsized from three riders to two, with the UCI combining that with reducing the men’s road race field to bring in the points race and madison.

  • tfk Thursday, 11 August 2016, 7:44 pm

    @Richard S…good points.

    Returning to the OP:

    We seem to have this same conversation in our household every 4 years too. It does seem a bit crazy. Inevitably the conversation then strays to who is the best athlete ever. Putting morals/ethics to one side, was a doped-up Armstrong better than Phelps? The conversation goes wider than just endurance/strength ability and needs to include skill too, for example.

    It seems to me that decisions about the number of Olympic medals-per sport are determined by wanting to maintain an overall total BUT also being constrained to the practicality of the cost of building the stadia eg building an Olympic-sized pool for 12 medal-events wouldn’t happen.

    • Larry T Thursday, 11 August 2016, 9:16 pm

      “….who is the best ATHLETE…?
      For me it’s the winner of the decathlon gold medal or for women the pentathlon rather than ANY swimmer or cyclist.

      • Nick Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:21 am

        I’m starting to think you revel in your grumpy old man image: the pentathlon hasn’t been in the Olympics since 1980!

        But I think I agree with you about the decathletes and heptathletes. Particularly Jessica Ennis winning the world championships last year, just a year after having a baby.

        There’s also an argument in favour of the winners of the all-round gymnastics titles: to the extent that being an athlete is making your body do exactly what you want, exactly when you want it, those guys certainly qualify.

        • Nick Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:25 am

          Or the Fijian rugby team, at the rate they’re going at the moment!

        • Larry T Friday, 12 August 2016, 2:30 am

          Sorry, Nick, you are correct, it’s HEPTATHLON these days,, my mistake. Regarding your “grumpy old man” comment, I can be non-grumpy about a lot of things, but one person’s grumpy old man is someone else’ man with perspective from being around awhile rather than someone who started paying attention to the sport a year ago and considers him/herself an expert.
          Please understand that I am NOT accusing you of this and INRNG is (thankfully) free of these kinds of commenters for the most part, which makes this a great forum to exchange ideas and opinions. May it ever be so.

      • Ecky Thump Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:36 am

        Surely the Triathlon champion?

      • Dave Friday, 12 August 2016, 1:00 am

        I think you mean Modern Pentathlon for both.

        Decathlon/Heptathlon is only a track and field competition.

  • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 7:47 pm

    How about if swimming was cycling?! Underwater kierin or aquatic Madison anyone?

  • weeclarky Thursday, 11 August 2016, 7:52 pm

    what about bike ballet for that matter – it’s pretty amazing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgVuwStkycw – even sagan couldn’t manage that

    • UHJ Friday, 12 August 2016, 10:42 am

      Well, Artistic cycling is a discipline within the UCI realm already as is “Cycle ball”. These disciplines are the smallest of niches but quite popular in central Europe, Germany, Schweitz and Czhec Republic in particular.
      The skills of these athletes should be admired, they really are very impressive. This girl; Nicole Frýbortová took silver at the Indoor Cycling WC last year.
      What about an 8 times World Champion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdwco_XqZ1A

  • david Thursday, 11 August 2016, 8:32 pm

    King Kong and Batman would go straight to the repechage.

  • Matthew Thursday, 11 August 2016, 8:55 pm

    How about tandem races 😉

    • cthulhu Thursday, 11 August 2016, 9:53 pm

      Oh, that’s long ago that that was Olympic….

    • John Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:45 pm

      I’ve watched tandem road races at the US Masterd Nationals. Interesting for the novelty, but I did not find it to be as exciting as traditional road races.

  • cthulhu Thursday, 11 August 2016, 9:51 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but maybe somebody else already brought up this topic, but I have to disagree on a few details.

    1. Yes, cycling has its rich year long season, which are more prestigious as most swimming events, but swimming does have every year either world or continental championships which are publicly well received. I believe even better than the road cycling world championships. But definitely better than track cycling in any form.

    2. Yes, medal parity is good. But I think it is a huge blow that the pursuit was scratched for that. Why? Because I think the endurance discipline on the track are a really great school for young and developing cyclists. Even or especially if they transfer to road races, like Wiggins and Cav, you have mentioned or Viviani or a long line of Australian cyclists. With these disciplines not being Olympic any funding associated with them is scratched as well.

    3. For track cycling the Olympic cycle is much more important than for swimming to receive public reception. And it give womens’ cycling a good show case which should reflect onto the road too. Medal parity is a great step no doubt. But cutting out one of the key disciplines, I wonder if it might hurt in the long run. Men and women alike, maybe women even more, because quite a few are on the road and on the boards.

    4. I know the UCI really wanted to include the omnium because of TV, and I think it is a good event, and I admit the pursuit can be quite boring. But I really don’t get why the couldn’t add two medals..?

    5. I know your comparison is tongue in the cheek and I see the difference between a 50 m sprint and 400 m or 800 m. I even see the difference to 200 m, but one could really question is 100 m so much different from the 200 m or the 50 m, that it deserves an own Olympic competition? Not that I want to take it away from them but again, why was it not possible to add two medals for the sake of gender parity without scratching events in cycling?

    So, you might be right with saying efforts to better develop womens’ cycling or others might be more urgent, but taking away a huge chunk out of the foundation doesn’t seem so far-sighted to me.

    • Dave Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:32 pm

      The UCI has been informed by the IOC that they can add extra events, but they cannot increase the total number of athletes to be selected.

      A good pathway could be to downsize the men’s road race, which is currently much larger than the women’s road race.

      The difference could be shifted across to add a points race and madison, both of them being for men and women. Each team qualifying could be allowed one extra track endurance rider on top of their existing allocation for the team pursuit and omnium.

  • RQS Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:32 pm

    Why compare? Just bring back more track medals. It feels like the festival of cycling is stopped just as it is beginning these days.

  • Tim Thursday, 11 August 2016, 11:33 pm

    What about a cycling event where you reverse the direction of the handlebars?

  • RayG Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:52 am

    We’d need much better lube.

  • Ferdi Friday, 12 August 2016, 12:59 am

    Good piece as bit of a joke.
    But the comparison shouldn’t be taken seriously, because medal counting is simply very dumb and ugly, whatever the count, by person, sport, or, worse, country. The swimming programme has been around for at least 30 years (since the 50 metres freestyle were introduced), and should be left alone, cycling fans have no business commenting on it. I don’t know how many medals are given in rowing or shooting, and I couldn’t care less.
    Sure, it’s a shame the madison and the points race are not there anymore, and the same goes for the 100km TTT. We should be calling to get those events back. Full stop.

    • Dave Friday, 12 August 2016, 1:13 am

      Excellent post.

      The IOC has capped the total number of athletes in each sport since 2008, but has informed the UCI they can add more events if they find a way to do it without increasing the number of athletes.

      If the Team Sprint is replaced with the Time Trial, the men’s sprint teams can be reduced from three riders per nation to two while having no change to the number of sprinters in the women’s teams. This ‘releases’ nine riders.

      By reducing the size of the men’s Road Race to have a maximum of four riders per team rather than the current five (and eliminating a few of the single rider teams) there should be enough capacity released to allow extra track endurance riders to be added for both the men and women to have a Points Race and Madison.

      I agree that a road TTT would be great.

      Or thinking a bit more radically, in addition to (and helping to cater for) expanding Track, how about have only one of Road and MTB at each edition of the Olympics, with the Olympic events for the other discipline held earlier in the year and the winners’ medals presented at the Olympics? This would allow for larger numbers of riders and a more full program each time, with road having six events (Road Race, ITT and TTT) and the same for MTB (full World Cup sized XC field, Eliminator and Downhill).

  • Rob Friday, 12 August 2016, 4:51 am

    The justification of the removal of the track events was the arrival of BMX. This prompted the exclusion of the ‘kilo’ and 500m TT, the individual pursuit(s), points race and the Madison (and the inclusion of the omnium). In 2008, however, the 10km open water swim was introduced… and no pool event was excluded.
    In other words: FINA = strong; UCI = weak.
    Political bargaining is required and cycling’s administrators simply weren’t – and still aren’t – up to the task.

    • Dave Friday, 12 August 2016, 8:32 am

      The inclusion of BMX for 2008 only saw the removal of the 1000m/500m time trial.

      It was in 2012 that the UCI made the following changes happened to the track cycling program in response to a requirement to have the same number of events for men and women:
      – the men’s and women’s individual pursuits and points races were replaced with the men’s and women’s omniums, women’s keirin and women’s team sprint.
      – the men’s madison was replaced with the women’s team pursuit.

      Not only was the UCI weak at the time, but also stubborn. If they had equalised the men’s and women’s program earlier, they could have done it by adding events rather than maintaining the same number.

    • Dave Friday, 12 August 2016, 8:42 am

      Another thing to consider is that swimming and athletics curry favour with the IOC by allowing athletes to be entered for ‘universality’ where that nation hasn’t earned any other spots in that sport.

      Perhaps cycling should do the same with the road time trial?

  • Anonymous Friday, 12 August 2016, 9:21 am

    I’m surprised how people here can take the Olympics seriously. The principal sports have a staggering level of doping (just that we know about), there are endless world records and the level of testing is dreadful.
    The general public still seems to believe the media stereotype of cycling being the ‘dirty’ sport whilst ignoring what goes on elsewhere, but I find it very odd that cycling fans seem unaware, or unconcerned, by the rampant level of drug use in, for example, athletics.

    • ebbe Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 12:44 pm

      Are cycling fans unaware of other sports? Or just “used to doping”?

      I for one know quite a fair bit more about doping in football than my friends who are football fans. My experience (admitted, n=1) is that cycling is one of the few sports (possibly the only one next to boxing/kickboxing/MMA? There might be others as well) where fans just accept:
      (1) Yes there is doping.
      (2) No, it’s not just a thing of the past or shady characters from shady countries. My own ‘heroes’ might be dopers as well.
      (3) Yes, we should battle doping. But anti-doping can only do so much, and they’ll always lag behind
      (4) And it’s still fun to watch the sport.

      In my experience, many fans of other sports can’t even compute (1), let alone the contradicting (2), (3) and (4)

  • Paul Friday, 12 August 2016, 9:27 am

    I still mourn the Individual Pursuit – IMHO the best / hardest Track Cycling Discipline

  • ave Friday, 12 August 2016, 10:08 am

    I loved this piece! So true! 🙂

  • Vitus Friday, 12 August 2016, 11:10 am

    What people tend to forget, or just don’t know, Madison was only few times an Olympic discipline, 3 games from 2000-2008.
    It’s not like it was there forever.
    This site shows the number of contests over the years https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Track_cycling_at_the_Summer_Olympics
    Most time we had 4-5 disciplines at track. When the women came into the play, the number doubled. So the whole amount is relatively stable

    • PT Friday, 12 August 2016, 10:56 pm

      Jesus & Mohammed Vitus, don’t go using logic and facts!

      • Vitus Saturday, 13 August 2016, 1:31 am

        Lost it for a moment and forgot that I’m on the interweb, sorry

  • RQS Friday, 12 August 2016, 7:34 pm

    Perhaps a better sport comparison is winter speed skating. But since it occupies a very different part of the sporting calendar and the Winter Olympic itinerary is not as full nobody is cutting from its list and yet this is a sport which even fewer countries are capable of competing in. Though the similarity to track cycling doesn’t stop with the arena and speeds, but also the fact that medalists might predominate over certain distances, but not all of them and there’s only one way to skate…..anyway it does seem a bit odd that one athlete can compete (and win) in so many events. Surely the challenges should promote dichotomy and be unique, rather than the same athletes repeatedly racing each other….though I have no idea if Phelps competes against the same athletes each time.

    • ebbe Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 12:30 pm

      I agree that (indoor) speed skating and track cycling are very comparable. There’s good reason most speed skaters are pretty good cyclists. Laurine van Riessen to name one https://twitter.com/CyclingHubTV/status/764450667062779905

      Speed skating is an important part of Winter Olympics because there is this silly Olympic rule that says Winter Olympic sports should (always?) be practiced on ice or snow. There’s only so many “mainstream” sports that are always practiced on ice or snow (basically something has to “glide”), so they don’t really have much choice. IIRC, Marianne Vos (might be somebody else, but that’s how I remember it) once lobbied for getting Cyclocross in the Winter Olympics. This silly rule stopped it.

      Also, I think some countries would protest if the speed skating events were cut. Notably: The Dutch would surely have their king make a quick phonecall to the IOC. Nobody seems to care about track cycling enough to put some pressure on UCI/IOC? And maybe (I’m guessing here) there just aren’t enough viewers/sponsors to base a bid for more track cycling events on?

      And then there’s the point of building a massive skating ring, which I imagine is quite a bit more expensive to build and operate than a velodrome. You’ll want to use that ring to the max to get airtime for sponsors, and thus more money. The same (to a lesser extent?) should go for a velodrome, but obviously there’s not enough pressure behind that

  • L'autre Dave Saturday, 13 August 2016, 2:38 am

    “With just ten gold medals available on the track and 32 in the pool it’s tempting to look on with envy as green as the water in the diving pool.”

    Very timely and creative…I got a good chuckle from that.

  • Jon Wood Saturday, 13 August 2016, 11:05 pm

    Cycling hasn’t lost medals, it has chosen to move some to MTB, BMX etc, together with gender equality.
    I’ll leave it to others to quote chapter and verse, but athletics and swimming are wrongly or rightly two sports that have special prominence over the other 26 in the Olympics. It is likely to remain that way.

  • Evan Sunday, 14 August 2016, 4:18 pm

    We already do have a go-slow competition: all of cycling is governed by equipment rules that generally slow you down, either because they ban fairings, they restrict your position, or disallow faster human-powered vehicles like recumbents. I’m not suggesting this needs to change, just that it’s a criticism that applies to any sport with rules.

    I do question why there needs to be so many similar distances. Is there some history of how that came about? Historically do they actually tend to have repeat winners or is it the rare champion like Spitz or Phelps that spans the categories (like Sagan)? Then again a GT has 21 stages where many of them are more or less minor variations of an archetype. Outsiders might reasonably ask why you need so many similar races day after day.

    • Larry T Sunday, 14 August 2016, 6:33 pm

      Thanks for pointing this out Evan!
      By definition:
      “To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity …”
      Bernard Suits
      This is my argument against those who insist that cycling “must be allowed to evolve” as their reason to let athletes use whatever equipment/product they happen to be promoting at the time.

    • Vitus Monday, 15 August 2016, 1:34 am

      Has anything taken away from cycling because swimming has so many events? The facts say no.
      And I don’t get that growing obsession here to go against swimming. Nobody asks if track and field needs 100, 200, 400. 800, 1000m and so on, nobody asks why boxing need so much medals just because one is 3 kg heavier.

      • J Evans Monday, 15 August 2016, 9:20 am

        Cycling needs more events, not swimming less. The velodrome is grossly underused. I can think of many sports that could be kicked out of the Olympics (football, tennis, golf, even road racing) in order to increase the number of track cyclists – if the IOC insists on keeping numbers the same.

        • Anonymous Monday, 15 August 2016, 1:32 pm

          True, the Women’s TT was sadly a terrible affair! not worthy of medals as an overall event. Someone had to win it so fair play to her but in future I think it should be dropped along with the men’s event.

        • Larry T Monday, 15 August 2016, 2:28 pm

          The current Olympic setup is a mess. At one time they were trying to cut down on events and make the entire “footprint” smaller but for some reason (yes, I know – greed) they put in GOLF which certainly goes against the idea of sports that can be practiced in developing nations. One could say this about a velodrome as well of course. The IOC is in crisis with their cave-in to the Russians despite the state-sanctioned doping, but I’m doubtful much will change as they take one step forward (the refugee team) and two backward.

  • David B Monday, 15 August 2016, 5:34 pm

    Why not extend golf to have: pitch and putt; long driving; putting; target golf. All are games within games and demand a variety of skills.

  • ebbe Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 12:08 pm

    OK, so we have a situation where:
    – There are many many other cycling disciplines out there, but they don’t “fit”. Most of these cycling disciplines are much more exciting to watch then 90% of the other sports at the (Summer) Olympics (shooting comes to mind)
    – The Summer Olympics are “full” regarding the amount of athletes, making adding other cycling disciplines, such as downhill and 4X which are specialist disciplines and therefore would add more athletes, unlikely
    – The Winter Olympics are not “full”

    How about we even the score in a bit different way then? Let’s add Cyclocross and (downhill?) Fatbiking to the Winter Olympics!

    They can just use the cross country ski course and the snowboard cross course (after those events have finished obviously). CX is a bit of a challenge, because they’d have to shovel the snow off (parts of) the course and change and some silly olympic rule, but why not?

  • HansPeter Thursday, 18 August 2016, 12:24 pm

    I have a similar feeling at the winter olympics, between ice hockey and speed skating. A country like Netherlands, which can do basically nothing in winter but excells at speed skating, is winning many more medals than ‘winter coutries’ like Canada, who can win a total of two medals (one male one female) as result of weeks of competition. Netherlands however win plenty of medals on 100, 200, 300, 320, 330 meter speed skating, clock- and anti clockwise.

  • Andy Turnbull Friday, 19 August 2016, 4:16 pm

    If your backstroke makes you swim backwards then you might not be doing it right…

    • Dave Friday, 19 August 2016, 6:34 pm

      Backwards swimming is something I’d love to see added to the program!

      • ebbe Friday, 19 August 2016, 6:56 pm

        Maybe that could be done by mandating the swimmers lie in the water on back down rather then chest down, then lift their hands above their bodies en “pull” themselves backwards (towards the direction of their own back). We could call the technique the “backstroke” and it could look something like this http://www.swimminglesson.com.my/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/backstroke2.jpg