Time trial world champion Caroline Buchanan of Australia got off to a strong start in the BMX Olympic tournament on Wednesday, posting the best time of the seeding runs on the challenging course at the Velopark.
Buchanan posted a time of 38.434 seconds to edge former world champion Sarah Walker of New Zealand by 0.210 seconds. Mariana Pajon of Colombia was third in 38.787.
Both men’s and women’s event start with a seeding phase to ensure that the fastest riders don’t meet before the final. The women advance straight to the semifinals while the men’s tournament features quarterfinals.
A silver medalist in Beijing four years ago, Laetitia Le Corguille of France ended fourth and will be in the same heat as Buchanan in Friday’s semifinals.
The qualification run failed to spark excitement in the stands, in a stark contrast to the overheated atmosphere in the Velodrome.
British rider Shanaze Reade’s ride was cheered by the crowd, although she only managed to post the fifth best time in 39.368.
Reade, a three-time world champion, was eliminated from the 2008 Olympic final after entering the race as one of the favorites.
American rider Brooke Crain heavily crashed in the home stretch in a section made of a succession of small jumps. She clipped her rear wheel on a ramp and lost control over the front of her handle bars. She slammed her chest into the next ramp and remained on the ground for about a minute.
Crain managed to get back on her bike to cross the finish line and was listed as DNF on the result sheet. If she’s able to continue, she would be given the 16th and final seed in the women’s competition.
Crain was a late replacement on the U.S. team for Arielle Martin, who was hospitalized after a crash during a final training run on July 30 in California.
Magalie Pottier of France, who won the world title in May, finished seventh.
BMX has been included to the Olympic program at the Beijing Games and is generally a crowd-pleaser. After the seeding runs, the races are likely to be more spectacular with all riders starting together from the top of a big ramp.
The men’s and women’s course are slightly different but both are technically challenging. The women’s course is shorter and takes the riders through a tunnel before rejoining with the men’s course on the last of the three banked corners. Instead of going into the tunnel, the men must negotiate a big jump on their second corner.