Throwback Thursday: Mountain Biking in the Olympics

Nov 28, 2019
by Sarah Moore  
Jenny Rissveds celebrates her Olympic champion title in the finish line of the race. She is the youngest MTB Olympic champion.


The first mountain bike World Championships were organized in 1990 but mountain biking only made its debut as an Olympic sport at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. That means that there have only ever been six Olympic Games that included mountain biking and 12 gold medals awarded, six to men and six to women. Both Paola Pezzo and Julien Absalon have won two apiece so that means just 10 people in the world have ever been Olympic gold medallists in mountain biking.

Add to that, although 36 medals have been awarded in total, only 26 individuals have ever won Olympic cross-country mountain biking medals. While Julien Absalon and Paola Pezzo may be the only ever back-to-back champions, both Nino Schurter and Sabine Spitz have the entire collection of bronze, silver, and gold at home and Bart Brentjens, Miguel Martinez, Maja Włoszczowska, and Jaroslav Kulhavý have two medals apiece. Since 1996, there have been over 400 XC World Cup medals awarded, but only 12 men and 14 women have ever won Olympic medals.

I guess what I'm trying to say with all these numbers is that it's a pretty big deal to win an Olympic medal. The world's fastest cross-country mountain bikers have already had the chance to race the Tokyo 2020 course and it was Nino Schurter and Jolanda Neff that came out on top, but it's all going to come down to race day on July 27, 2020 (Men's) and July 28, 2020 (Women's).

Nino Schurter said on November 16th that the "first intervals for #2020 are in the books. Or better said, saved on the Garmin computer." Can he win a record-breaking fourth Olympic medal? Let us know what you think in the poll below.


Atlanta 1996

Men:
1. Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 2:17.38
2. Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) 2:20:14
3. Miguel Martinez (France) 2:20:36
Women:
1. Paola Pezzo (Italy) 1:50.51
2. Alison Sydor (Canada) 1:51.58
3. Susan DeMattei (United States) 1:52.36



Sydney 2000:

Men:
1. Miguel Martinez (France) 02:09:02
2. Filip Meirhaeghe (Belgium) + 1.03
3. Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) + 2.18
Women:
1. Paola Pezzo (Italy) 01:49:24
2. Barbara Blatter (Switzerland) + 0.27
3. Margarita Fullana (Spain) + 0.35


Athens 2004:

Men:
1. Julien Absalon (France) 2:15:02
2. José Antonio Hermida (Spain) 2:16:02
3. Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 2:17:05
Women:
1. Gunn-Rita Dahle (Norway) 1:56:51
2. Marie-Hélène Prémont (Canada) 1:57:50
3. Sabine Spitz (Germany) 1:59:21


Beijing 2008:

Men:
1. Julien Absalon (France) 1:55:59
2. Jean-Christophe Péraud (France) 1:57:06
3. Nino Schurter (Switzerland) 1:57:52
Women:
1. Sabine Spitz (Germany) 1:45:11
2. Maja Włoszczowska (Poland) 1:45:52
3. Irina Kalentieva (Russia) 1:46:28



You can watch the women's race here.


London 2012:

Men:
1. Jaroslav Kulhavý (Czech Republic) 1:29:07
2. Nino Schurter (Switzerland) 1:29:08
3. Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy) 1:29:32
Women:
1. Julie Bresset (France) 1:30:52
2. Sabine Spitz (Germany) 1:31:54
3. Georgia Gould (United States) 1:32:00


2016 Rio Olympic XC Men s podium.
1. Jenny Rissveds SWE 2. Maja Wloszczowska POL 3. Catherine Pendrel CAN .


Rio 2016:

Men:
1. Nino Schurter (Switzerland) 1:33:28
2. Jaroslav Kulhavý (Czech Republic) 1:34:18
3. Carlos Coloma Nicolás (Spain) 1:34:51
Women:
1. Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) 1:30:15
2. Maja Włoszczowska (Poland) 1:30:52
3. Catharine Pendrel (Canada ) 1:31:41


Tokyo 2020:

Here's everything we know about the course so far. Who do you think will be fastest on it?


Men:

Who will win the Tokyo 2020 men's mountain bike race?


Women:

Who will win the Tokyo 2020 women's mountain bike race?





90 Comments

  • 22 0
 The late great Burry Stander gave his all at the 2012 London games to chase and catch the leading bunch after a horrific start ... what a fighter he was. R.I.P Burry
  • 1 0
 for Burry.
  • 24 2
 I remember working in a LBS that back in the day, and there was this poster of Paola Pezzo in a shinny gold cycling kit ... such a great memory Razz
  • 5 0
 Somewhere in time between Juli Furtado and Kate Kortney was Paola!
  • 1 0
 I have one of those posters in my garage!!!
  • 14 3
 To the 50 people who said Emily Batty, you need to be honest with yourselves, that has NOTHING to do with racing. Haley Smith & Catharine Pendrel are far better options if you're just voting for Canada (which is totally okay!) I'm expecting to see one of them on the podium this year, but it'll be tough to beat the emotion of Pendrel's charge into bronze from Rio - that was awesome!
  • 4 0
 They're not thinking with their heads.
  • 3 0
 @Powderface: thinking with one of them
  • 10 0
 That SYDNEY clip makes me want to find some old road Lycra at the back of the wardrobe and go for a spin on the shit box I’ve still got hanging in the shed from 20 years back...
  • 14 4
 Sorry Nino, it’s gonna be Mathieu.
  • 8 0
 Not gonna lie, I had a massive crush on Paola Pezzo when I was a teenager and Gary Fisher and NorthWave ads/posters featuring her were everywhere.
  • 2 0
 That Gary Fisher poster where she's in red shorts sitting on the top tube...
  • 1 0
 Is your name William and are you from Duck Lake, Saskatchewan?
  • 11 1
 Peter Sagan?
  • 2 0
 Needs cushcore or some shit. Damn flat tires
  • 6 0
 I will for sure be rooting for Flueckiger, kind of an underdog for the win despite having some great results the last few seasons
  • 4 0
 I have gone with Nino simply because of the technical course. Otherwise I would have said MVdP. Can't wait!
  • 3 0
 My only gold was on the Atlanta Olympic course. Won as part of a team at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin back 20 years ago on my honeymoon. Was one of the best weekends ever.
  • 4 0
 It's a shame that the Sydney track no longer exists...
  • 5 0
 Mathieu FTMFW!!!
  • 3 0
 I have a strong feeling Nino-san is going to win it. The track suits him perfectly.
  • 3 0
 Best part for us nearby is that the 2012 XC course is still there and open to the public.
  • 4 0
 Bart Brentjens was my idol!
  • 3 0
 I hear the course is going to be pretty technical. Favors Nino and Jolanda I think.
  • 2 0
 in Tokyo, a tight and tight course, one thing is certain, the races will be exciting. but my voice nino and jenny
  • 1 1
 " so that means just 10 people in the world have had the chance to be Olympic gold medallists in mountain biking."
Don't follow your twisted logic here.. surely everyone who raced had the chance!
  • 1 0
 I've edited for clarity - I meant that only 10 people in the world have ever been Olympic gold medallists in mountain biking / stood on the podium.
  • 1 0
 Only 10 people have had the privilege of being given Olympic medals.
  • 4 0
 @JohanG: Only 10 people have had the privilege of being given Olympic GOLD medals.
  • 2 0
 I would love to see an article with bike checks/details for the medalists over the years!
  • 2 0
 I still think there should be Down Hill... I mean the winter Olympics has DH, DS, XC
  • 1 0
 Interesting to look at the race times across the years. Men are 2hrs+ until London 2012.
  • 1 0
 Yes, I agree! That's why I put the times in there.
  • 1 0
 There was a shift in the nature of xc from long circuits with minimal laps, to spectator friendly shorter laps with the UCI releasing guidelines that the winner should be around 1:30
  • 2 0
 @othello London was the birth of XCO - O = Olympic - format. Prior to that all XC races were between 2 and 2.5hrs. This format is now considered "classic" or even XCM - M = Marathon Smile
  • 2 0
 Prob should mention the debacle with Sue Haywood.
  • 2 2
 USA cycling has had more than one debacle with their idiotic ranking systems. Its embarrassing that they are still in business. Yes, it is a business, not a organization to benefit cycling.
  • 2 0
 @Sycip69er: If USA Cycling is business why is it a 501(c)(3) nonprofit? Where do their "business" profits go? How many shareholders do they have? What are their dividends?
  • 2 0
 @JohanG: look at their financial statements. See anything out of the ordinary? BTW What makes you believe that a business needs shareholders and dividends? USAC is a corporation that pays its officers huge salaries, puts millions into personal investments, pays its standard employees next to nothing, and barely gives back to cycling. They hide behind a tax exemption and you just give them a pass?


www.usacycling.org/about-us/fiscal-information
  • 1 0
 Surely everyone that competed had a chance to win gold, not just the 10 that actually won it.
  • 1 0
 Not really. Because of the allocation system, there are people in the Olympics that have never raced a World Cup, let alone been on the lead lap, top 20 or podium of a World Cup.
  • 1 0
 I remember how stoked I was for Travis Brown from trek to be in that race. Then he broke his leg on a ride.
  • 2 0
 XC has improved so much since 2000 for spectators...
  • 2 0
 How come Annika Langvad didn't even make the list?
  • 3 0
 Good catch! I've added her in now. I based the poll on the top riders in the 2019 World Cup overall + the test event so I missed her but hopefully she'll be back in full force for 2020.
  • 3 1
 Langvad didn't make the test event.. the course vids suggest that this isn't the event for her and I suspect she'll be a DNS.
  • 1 0
 @jonnyboy: I don't think someone of her caliber would want to miss the Olympics and she is probably able to adapt just about to any course!
  • 1 0
 @sevn: I don't think walking the tech will make her particularly competetive though.
Tremendous athlete, no question, but completely outclassed by too many of the other ladies from a technical ability perspective.
  • 1 0
 @jonnyboy: yes right, but I think the man-made features on the tokio course are different than the wet natural trails in let's say La Bresse where she did struggle quite a bit. so I could see her in contention! especially after a sub-par season she will be super motivated!
  • 2 0
 Randy is going to take gold for the U.S. of A
  • 2 0
 Yolanda Neff already won my heart
  • 1 0
 at 20:18 Nino Shurter had his nasal passages drilled to get more oxygen....
  • 10 13
 I do not mean this in jest, at all...but damn - would be awesome if the course was more "downcountry" in this era

Make the course such that if you don't have a dropper post, you're going OTB or getting sacked on a jump. The skill is obviously there with all these men/women and it would add more entertainment value for spectators
  • 26 0
 Isn't that pretty much what the Tokyo 2020 course will be? Track looked to have some pretty gnarly sections in the previews, not to mention a lot of crashes during the test event.
  • 2 4
 @Rusettipasta: i watched some clips. i mean, it's got some steep sections. and yes, the riders are super skilled (i likely wouldnt roll this with a seat that high) but this seatpost is still jacked at max extension and guy is just rolling youtu.be/35uuHtn-WLU?t=128
  • 7 1
 @ccolagio: Actually that's one of the milder obstacles. Here's a full lap with a couple of the Spanish Team riders. www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUIqbTG4hKE

IMPO, the good tech riders are going to have an serious advantage over the power riders on this circuit.
  • 3 0
 @ccolagio: At race speed I can imagine that becomes a drop.
  • 9 0
 @ccolagio: I was at the track during the test event, this isn't even close to how difficult the other sections are.
  • 4 0
 I think it's easy to forget that these riders are also (often) amazing at drops and steep tech etc. I don't think anyone will have a significant problem without a dropper post if they're used to not having one but it probably would help a lot of people.
  • 2 0
 Rio was pretty effin downcountry, that rock garden was savage. Tokyo will be more of the same from that from what I've seen.
  • 2 1
 So you're saying we need a Trail Bike olympics. That would be fun. I'd like to see a course so hard that riders are choosing 130-150mm bikes.
  • 1 0
 @brodoyouevenbike: Did you imagine that because a Spanish rider jumps it in the video and the narrator says
"the best way is just to jump it"?
  • 4 0
 downcountry only exist in pinkbike forum section Wink
  • 1 0
 @Ironmonsoon602: I've been searching high & low for a full race video of the Rio races. No Joy.
The best I've found is a full lap POV video from Julien Absalon at the test event.
Anyone have a link???
  • 2 0
 Antoine cooper ????
  • 7 0
 His french cousin?!!
  • 1 0
 Ahh the good old days of v brakes & bar ends..
  • 1 3
 Nino and co are doing the Cape Epic in March 2020. Conventional wisdom is that if you want to win the Olympic gold, this is the wrong way to start your season. Its going to be an interesting year...
  • 2 1
 Conventional wisdom also strongly implies that for winning a 8 day marathon stage race it would require a different skillset, preparation and training regimen compared to flat out WC XC races yet Schurter has proven everybody wrong and dominated both events in recent years. Which gives the slightest reason to doubt the "preparation" compared to the rest of the field....
  • 1 0
 @wildedge586: Many of the field are XCO racers. Look at the recent womens and mens winners of late. V d Poel jas Ninos number in the games.
  • 2 0
 I think Nino prob has a decent idea of his capabilities and preparation needs. More son than any wisdom this keyboard can type
  • 1 0
 @Ironmonsoon602:
I am not doubting his professionalism. Simply curious to understand how in road racing there's a very distinct separation between 3 to 1week stage race GC riders and one day classics or criterium racers and such. And each group has to specialize and train distinctly different which worsens their chances for winning in other fields.
Somehow this observation/rule of thump does not apply to Nino. Wonder how he does it?
  • 4 0
 This year Nino and Lars Forster won the Absa Cape Epic. Schurter also won the World Championships and the World Cup overall and Forster won the World Cup final. Seemed like it set up their seasons pretty well.
  • 1 0
 @sarahmoore: But he was flat at the start of the year - he even said as much. Any ways, it's going to be Avancini so why do we care about Nino??? Razz
  • 4 0
 @wildedge586: taking a guess as a regular-guy XC racer, Nino and his crew probably see Cape Epic as simply a way to get in a large volume of training stress in nice weather when not much else is going on. He’s not going to train specifically for that, but use the base fitness he gains to sharpen up for the Olympics over the intervening months. Sponsorship obligations also probably play a big role.
  • 4 0
 Conventional wisdom says that punters on PB forums should not expect to be taken seriously when criticizing the XC GOATs proven training regimen.
  • 1 0
 London Olympics XC track was a sort of joke
  • 2 2
 Unless MVDP has a serious setback he’s well positioned to kick the tar out of the field.
  • 1 0
 Gave her my vote
  • 2 5
 Should enduro racing be an Olympic sport? Isn't enduro more representative of the sport of mountain biking than cross country?
  • 4 0
 Yes, what could be more representative of MTB than people taking a chairlift to the top of half of their race segments. /s
  • 1 0
 @LeDuke: Yeah it's odd that they do that. I thought half the point of enduro was to earn ones turns.
  • 2 0
 @LeDuke: that's only for rich enduro organizations. People´s enduros do not have money for that sort of thing, so everybody pedals up and go -almost- full enduro :p
  • 1 3
 A parody, a Disneyland attraction with an Olympic logo pinned on it, the Kinder Surprise of mountain biking. No thanks.
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