The Olympics Prove That MTB Is Safer Than Golf (sort of)

Dec 20, 2022 at 2:14
by Matt Wragg  
A team of Olympics doctors published injury statistics from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics in the British Medical Journal on 13 December.

The big headline is that BMX racing is officially the most dangerous Olympic sport, with 27% of competitors suffering an injury. It takes those honours just ahead of boxing (also on 27%) and BMX freestyle (22%). While the statistics do give an overview of the types of injuries sustained it is not fully broken down by sport and neither BMX nor MTB appear explicitly in the breakdown of specific injuries so we can only guess.

Mountain biking sits in the lower third of the table, nestled between basketball and artistic swimming. Notably, more mainstream sports like football and golf had higher rates of injury. Although, artistic swimming had a much higher illness rate than mountain biking. Surprisingly, athletics is right up there on the injury stakes with the 6th highest rate.

2016 Rio Olympic XC Men s podium.
Nine Schurter took gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics

A technical course, but fewer injuries

What is most striking for mountain biking is the progression of the sport - it is arguably the Olympic sport with the most improved safety record. In Rio the injury rate among mountain bikers would have ranked it as one of the most dangerous sports in the games, at 24%. Yet, by learning from the event in Rio, this came down to just 7% injury rate in Tokyo - even with racing in the rain. What makes this statistic more important is that the course in Tokyo was far more technically challenging than in Rio, with some significant jumps and drops. This suggests that with good course design, safety is not a solid argument for dumbing down race courses.

Of course, mountain biking is still some way behind road cycling in these statistics, which had an injury rate in Tokyo of just 2%. Although before any triumphant road cyclists start declaiming how much safer their sport is, it is worth remembering that the Olympics are raced on closed roads, which eliminates the very real danger of death by automobile that road cyclists face every day.

This does make road cycling among the safest Olympic sports, alongside diving, rowing, marathon swimming and shooting. All of these sports had injury rates of 1-2%.

As we know from Jos Antonio Hermida when Spaniard has a mustache watch out Carlos Nicolas Coloma got the bronze medal
Tight racing at the 2016 Rio Olympics

BMX in context

To put these injury statistic in context, 9% of all athletes competing in the Games suffered an injury, so BMX athletes have more than twice the injury risk of athletes from other sports. Within those injuries, BMX racing also has the highest risk of more serious injury (requiring more than one week away from training for recovery), although karate is not far behind.

One popular myth that these statistics do bust is that freestyle riding is inherently dangerous. Surely the assumption would be that as soon as you start tricking jumps the danger levels shoot up. Yet despite all the impressive flipping, spinning and flairing on show, it still had a lower injury rate than the more established discipline of BMX racing. This suggest that it is the chaos of other riders that heightens the danger, not the complexity of the tricks.

These reports are published after each Olympic games as a starting point to make the Games safer. It is worth saying that as a new sport, it would be expected that BMX freestyle has a more significant injury rate than an established sport as organisers learn the particularities of the discipline. Although the challenge is going to be how to make BMX freestyle safer, without comprising the sport's integrity.


  • 184 3
 Good to know most of the serious injuries have a BMX background
  • 26 41
flag carlwheezer69 (Dec 21, 2022 at 10:59) (Below Threshold)
 More serious injuries happen because so many riders are wearing accident prone accessories. Jerseys, shoes, pants, sokcs, shoes, tighty whities. These are things we do NOT need! They slow you down, catch on branches, cause additional friction. The only accessory that is acceptable for any riding is going to be the new Clear as Nude lenses from @100percent we spent YEARS creating them, and let me tell you they are next level. "See nude, feel nude, be the nude". Peace out Pinkbikey and Happy Nudimas.

Thank, Carl
  • 3 0
 But not cheaper than golf which surprises me
  • 84 14
 Always makes me chuckle when golf is called a "sport".
  • 12 54
flag Diarmuidbikes (Dec 21, 2022 at 10:06) (Below Threshold)
 Can you strike a ball almost 600yds from where you hit it like the world's top Golfers? And then do it accurately?
  • 62 9
 It's an activity. Like chess or baseball.
  • 17 51
flag Diarmuidbikes (Dec 21, 2022 at 11:07) (Below Threshold)
 @singletrackslayer: it's nothing like chess. You have to be incredibly in tune with what your body is doing to be good at Golf. Chess can be played by someone who has nothing but the use of a single arm. Injuries can completely derail a golfers career. Not so much with chess.

How anyone thinks golf isn't a sport is beyond me. Just because your heart rate isn't doing 180bpm doesn't mean it's not a sport. I haven't even played Golf in years but it's an incredibly difficult game and if you get injured you will know exactly how much of a sport it is when you can no longer do it well.
  • 6 34
flag mi-bike (Dec 21, 2022 at 11:21) (Below Threshold)
 @Diarmuidbikes: I'm totally with you. As you say, you lose an arm and you can no longer play golf. In contrast, even blind people can still play chess! This clearly proves that golf is a sport.
  • 18 3
 I have played golf my entire life and think it as a game, but it does have very athletic movements. I've had a lot of injuries from golf.
  • 11 24
flag Diarmuidbikes (Dec 21, 2022 at 13:09) (Below Threshold)
 @tacklingdummy: ha, the hate for a game/sport is baffling to me, particularly from people who have never even attempted to play it. Oh well.
  • 7 17
flag tacklingdummy (Dec 21, 2022 at 13:15) (Below Threshold)
 @Diarmuidbikes: Yeah, tons of pro athletes and athletes in other sports and even in mountain biking play golf. I guess it is just the whole dumb tribalism stuff that goes on nowadays.
  • 29 9
 @Diarmuidbikes: Its a difficult game but its not a sport... Sure it requires a little strength but by no means are golfers or professional golfers athletes. You can be ultra distance marathon runner in your spare time or an overweight chain smoker with whiskey in a water bottle (John Daly) and still play the game at the same level.
  • 6 16
flag dirtyburger (Dec 21, 2022 at 16:24) (Below Threshold)
 I use the term sport for competitive “physical” activities. Hence golf is a sport and any bike riding outside of racing and freestyle comps is not. So your weekend mtb spin with the boys is not sport.
  • 6 4
 @dirtyburger: I've always considered golf more of game because it is not reactionary, however, after just looking at the formal definition of sport, I think it is very reasonable to consider golf a sport. It requires both physical and mental exertion, skill, and is competitive.
  • 22 4
 Anything the average person can do better after a few beers is an activity, not a sport.
  • 6 0
 @tacklingdummy: people laugh when I tell them golf has given my body more trouble than mtb. The swing is not a very natural movement of the body, this also adds to its difficulty.
  • 8 1
 @tacklingdummy: that it, the repetition of asymetric moves causes injuries in golf, the same as some workers, or fix an ikea stuff brings tendinopathies! I agree it's a game but not a sport as we understand it as an aerobic activiy.
  • 4 2
 @scallywagg: surely we can say the same about freestyle MTB or skiing too? Most of those guys live a lifestyle that would not allow them to compete as top athletes in more cardiovascular based sports. Some of them are pretty "soft" looking too.
  • 5 0
 @scallywagg: To be fair, you also can't call the pudgy dopes that ride the chairlift at the bike parks athletes either.
  • 4 2
 @Diarmuidbikes: that's an odd comparison... Although I guess at its most beginner level the physical exertion it takes to ski or ride a bike down a hill can be compared to physical exertion of golf, but any proper rider that's beyond bunny hills and greens/blues, skier and freestyle mtb'er alike, is definitely considered an athlete.

Golf at its most "prestigious level" can be played by anyone with the ability to get a ball in a hole regardless of their athleticism. Not saying that it isn't a tough game, it truly is, but its a game.
  • 6 0
 Next thing you'll be telling me snooker and darts aren't sports. How will I be able to tell people I am a top level local triathlete with a massive beer gut if they're not sports?
  • 4 1
 @scallywagg: 20 years ago a professional golfer could get by on coordination and strategy alone; nowadays you also need to be either strong or flexible, but mostly all three.
  • 1 6
flag tfirth12 (Dec 22, 2022 at 13:00) (Below Threshold)
 @boopiejones: Woahhhh there big dog. I guess we do it a little different here in Montana. I'd give you a 2 beer head start and still whoop your tesla driving a$$
  • 2 1
 @tfirth12: you talking about golf? And what’s with the comment about the Tesla? I never claimed to be good at golf, and I don’t own an EV. Quite the opposite actually, I have three Jeeps and a 68 MGB. But thanks for playing.
  • 1 5
flag tfirth12 (Dec 22, 2022 at 13:26) (Below Threshold)
 @boopiejones: HAHAHAHAHA Nope, mountain biking, I just call anyone that appears soft a tesla driver. Sounds like you are more along the lines of a brodozer. Do you have 3 because they consistently break down? Wink I'm just teasing ya pal. Was just trying to say I sure enjoy a couple beers before I go shred bikes. takes the edge off ya know! Maybe you ought to try it out.
  • 6 0
 @tfirth12: Out of curiosity, how does a person's vehicle make them soft or hard? That concept had always baffled me.
  • 3 2
 @matyk: Easy: A man who can't get hard, or is very small, buys the flashiest monster truck or sports car he can afford.
  • 2 0
 @barp: Yeah. That sounds right.
  • 2 0
 @mi-bike: I know a guy who only has 1 arm and plays golf off a handicap of 18. Blind people play golf too…
  • 9 2
noun: sport; plural noun: sports

an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

Golf has physical aspects. Golf requires skill at the top tier. Golf is competitive between individuals. Golf is televised for entertainment.

Golf is absolutely a sport. Go mouth off about your preferred drivetrain and brakes, this is just goofy.
  • 6 7

noun: golf, plural noun: still not a sport

An activity that is commonly enjoyed at retirement homes due to its peaceful nature and low levels of "physical exertion". Warning: may require slight movement of the hips

Golf has physical aspects... Similar to Darts, Foosball, Pool, Competitive Eating, Fishing, Etc...

Golf, although a difficult game at times, is not a sport.
  • 6 2
 gatekeep (third-person singular simple present gatekeeps, present participle gatekeeping, simple past and past participle gatekept)

(by extension, slang, Internet) To limit another party's participation in a collective identity or activity, usually due to undue pettiness, resentment, or overprotectiveness.

Golf is literally, by definition, a sport.
  • 5 0
 @scallywagg: The same could be said about cycling. Cycling can be enjoyed at retirement homes due to its peaceful nature and low levels of physical exertion and low impact on the body when just leisurely riding on the street.
  • 1 4
 @scallywagg: MTB, at it's most prestigious level, can be played by anyone with the ability to get the judges to score them highly. Kyle Strait and Jordi Lunn at Rampage come to mind. Neither are what most people would associate with an athletic build, yet both are 100 times the riders, and humans, that you will ever be.

Unless, of course, you're also going to contest that Red Bull f*cking Rampage also isn't a sport.
  • 2 1
 @Diarmuidbikes: yes Golf is an extremely challenging sport that, it sounds like, many folks here have no respect or understanding for. That said, where the hell have you seen a 600 yd drive? That’s super human
  • 1 0
 @gossman: yeah, you are right. I think I'm probably being too generous there. 450-500 is possible though.
  • 3 0
 @crowaan: I play golf on the regular but my "petty" ass will still never look at it as a sport. Thats my opinion tho so you can label it however you please. Cheers mate
  • 49 1
 That wooden ramp was a conspiracy to bump the numbers.
  • 7 0
 Van Der Poel agrees with this statement.
  • 23 2
 Olympic BMX racing is only more dangerous because these officials cross the track without watching. Educate the Olympic BMX officials and bring the TdF audience to the Olympics and this whole statistic research goes upside down.
  • 6 0
 Niek crash was brutal..but to remember Connor had a career ender crash during semis.. BMX is the most dangerous sport in Olympics..but also the best ..
  • 14 1
 the sheer speed difference between bmx freestyle and bmx racing was oddly left out in the article. BMX racers haul serious ass and that 100% translates into smacking the pavement way harder than a freestyle guy who missed a tailwhip and had time to set up for a bail.
  • 13 1
 xc racing might be safer now. anyone who raced in the late 80s, early 90s knew it was far from safe & often downright dangerous. brakes that didnt slow, never mind stop, tyres that didnt grip, nervous geometry. but by far the worst, mtb components that simply werent fit for purpose. I had handlebars snap when i weighed 130lb.
  • 4 0
 XC racing was one of the most dangerous sports at the 2016 Rio games, with 24% of riders getting injured. Can't put that one down to sudden (in 4 years) improvements in geometry, brakes, tires, and components.
  • 1 0
 By that logic downhill racing is safer now too.
  • 12 0
 BMX racing crash compilations are some of the most brutal videos on youtube.
  • 10 1
 Is serious injury being out of the sport for one week?
I think the statistics would be even more useful if it graded the seriousness a little more in the direction of stuff that creates real health issues you have to live with, or at least had a column for injuries that keep you out of the sport for months.

(Interesting statistics anyway though!)
  • 22 0
 I'd bet the reporting of injuries is also skewed. I can see a scenario where a BMX'er will roll an an ankle... can barely walk, but fashion a brace with duct tape and just ride through it. Golfer gets hangnail and surgery is performed.
  • 6 0
 You'd think the absolute minimum injury rate in boxing is 50% of contestants.
  • 1 0
 @L0rdTom: Yeah, that's a [blood]sport where a career in it basically guarantees you a case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
  • 9 1
 As a golfer and a mountainbiker I can tell you that my smashed hip from crashing resulting in six months on crutches, has proved more challenging to get over than the sore elbow I get sometimes playing golf!
  • 3 0
 Ha, yeah there's an awful lot of context and nuance missing here. A broken arm which results in 6 weeks out of work is a lot more serious than a strained hamstring which stops you training fully for running but both would probably be classed the same here.
  • 2 0
  • 10 0
 I've been saying my whole life, a good day for golf is an even better day for mountain biking
  • 5 0
 I wonder if this data is just those injured during competition or includes athletes that do not compete due to injury? Seems like BMX park riders would be more likely to be injured during training since practice time is a lot more than a few 90 second runs, plus they're not likely to try tricks they don't have perfected during a contest.
  • 2 0
 "We defined injuries and illnesses as new (pre-existing, not fully rehabilitated conditions were not recorded) or recurring (athletes having returned to full participation after a previous condition) incurred in competition or training during the period between the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (23 July to 8 August 2021) receiving medical attention, regardless of the consequences with respect to absence from competition or training."
  • 5 0
 I've been to several "supercross" style BMX tracks, Rock Hill and Chula Vista, and the speeds some of the "locals" get when pedaling down the big hill is pretty crazy. Even though it is technically dirt, it's compacted to such a degree it might as well be concrete.

There are more than a handful of BMX athletes that are retired because of TBI, CTE, or some sort of paralysis. I didn't do much more digging, but even in the late '80s early '90s, I didn't hear much about such severe injuries. Around 2008 when BMX was introduced to the Olympics, more and more athletes are getting severely injured. I'd venture to guess the larger, faster, and paved tracks have some role to play.
  • 8 0
 Good to know it's safer to get repeatedly punched in the mouth by trained professionals than race BMX. What a world!
  • 10 3
 Golfers are soft (most ride ebikes) so every bruise is reported as an "injury".
  • 2 3
 They are just totally different activities. I've played golf my entire life and ridden mountain bikes for 35 years. It is really difficult to play good golf with aches, pains or tightness. With mountain biking, you can ride at pretty high levels with aches, pains, and tightness because the pain of crushing gears overrides any aches and pains.
  • 4 6
 @tacklingdummy: why is everybody ragging on golf? It’s hard AF, not the most physical thing in the world but still crazy challenging.
  • 4 2
 @dirtyburger: it's fashionable to talk shit about things which are perceived to be done by rich people and/or people who are scared of getting hurt
  • 4 1
 @dirtyburger: Because it's a waste of space. Public golf courses should be converted to bike parks. They would be able to serve about 100 times as many people in the same space.
  • 1 1
 @barp: Most golf courses are on extremely flat ground.
  • 1 0
 @tacklingdummy: Ever heard of a shovel? Or heavy equipment to build the jumps and berms faster. Hell, Bentonville is extremely flat ground and they didn't let that stop 'em.
  • 10 3
 Golf is an illness. Stay well away. Seriously.
  • 7 0
 MVDP might disagree…
  • 2 0
 Was he technically 7% of the field?
  • 5 0
 Yesterday, on the golf course I saw two guys roll over a golf cart. They were rattled.
  • 5 0
 I hope Nine Schurter names one of his offspring Ten and keeps the tradition alive.
  • 2 0
 To put it into perspective, at this point, out of the 10 medalist in BMX Racing (Strombergs and Ramirez are both repeat medalists), three have had career ending crashes; Sam Willoughby, Jelle Van Gorkom, and Connor Fields. Sam and Jelle's were life-altering injuries.
  • 1 0
 What would show a sport to be safer or less safe is the lifetime injuries of the competitors. I've raced XC for thirty years and also spent one or two summers at the skatepark on a BMX. Guess which one of those activities gave me more injuries requiring medical help. Not even close.
  • 3 0
 XC guy tries BMX at the skatepark... I hope you made a full recovery.
  • 1 0
 @IntoTheEverflow: I wasn't exclusively XC - I'd already had some BMX racing in my background. So let's assume I had equal competence on both BMX and XC bike, I don't think I ever came across anything in XC as dangerous as a big street spine. Also, in say a three-hour XC race of 100 people, so 300 person-hours of riding, they may not be a single injury. I'd say I've never been at a big skate park for more than two or three hours on a busy day without someone having injured themselves enough to not be back for a month. And yeah, once or twice it was me (see previously mentioned street spine). Most of my injuries that required a visit to E.R. were from dirt jumps, but that's not an Olympic sport.
  • 3 0
 8 riders lined up. All Jacked, 200k+ squatters, pushing out over 2000 watts at 130+RPM. On tracks constantly working their way to look more like video games.
  • 1 0
 Our local bike park is at the same property as a golf course, shares the same carpark, one trail goes right alongside a green. I always look at the golfers, especially the blokes my age or younger, and think… look at those pussys,
  • 2 0
 Well I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be possibly getting a shoulder replacement in my thirties from golfing unless some a*shole hit me with a golf cart
  • 2 0
 I am sure that with obligatory headset cable routing on all competitors’ bikes, we can get the MTB injury stat’s down to zero!
  • 2 1
 Still the nastiest crash I think I've ever seen (womens olympic cycling, Rio '16:
  • 1 6
flag generictrailrider (Dec 21, 2022 at 8:11) (Below Threshold)
 Yeah brutal but the topic here is XC racing.
  • 1 0
 I remember that one, that was a horrific looking crash. Conner Fields career ending crash at the Tokyo games was brutal as well.
  • 2 0
 @generictrailrider: thanks for keeping us on track.
  • 4 0
 BMX crashes are HEAVY
  • 1 2
 I suppose you'd need to define "serious", but if a road peloton suffers a group crash, there can be dozens of riders out/DNF. If the road events finish without issue, sure, they're safe (given no traffic/closed roads). But it would be interesting to see the actual context of the events in the report.

I would definitely want to see the context of the golf injuries. Did the shuttle taking them to the clubhouse get into a collision?
  • 1 0
 Group crashes in road racing most often (but not always) happen when everyone is trying to be at the front, like at the run-in to a sprint. Mostly first week of grand tours, and some special points in classics races. The course at the Olympics usually doesn't lead to such situations, also because of the altered team dynamics with national teams.
  • 3 0
 Cubs Peterson lost his hands to golf so I guess it's true
  • 2 0
  • 1 0
 Don't built XC race courses near crocodiles.
  • 2 1
 Given the sample size is literally two events I think it's fair to say there is nothing to see here and we should all move on.
  • 6 4
 Not Olympics, I know, but Crossfit for the crown of injury king!!!
  • 5 0
 King of looking silly for sure.
  • 3 1
 This is why I gave up MTB for shooting.
  • 2 3
 i wonder how many of these crashes and injuries could have been avaoided by having everyone race n flats and ban clips so at least riders can dab a foot if it all starts going wron gin the pack
  • 4 0
 Or we may see more injuries from slipped pedals causing crashes. I can't think of many places BMX riders are dabbing whether or not they're clipped in.
  • 1 0
 It'd be a good move for BMX and would help in my opinion. But tracks would need to change as the speeds would be lower so the jumps/start hill size reduce also. I'm all for it personally but with the number of SX level tracks worldwide I cant see it happening unless (and sadly I suspect it will in the next couple of olympic cycles) BMX racing is dropped as an Olympic event.
  • 2 0
 My eyes just got injured by that second photo.
  • 2 0
 How the heck do you get injured playing golf?
  • 2 0
 falling over drunk
  • 1 0
 Haha. Believe or not the two times in my life that I almost died were getting hit in the head with a 9 iron while playing golf, and over shooting a double and unknowingly rupturing my spleen.

Golf injury shattered my skull into 32 pieces and a traumatic brain injury. They said I was never going to talk again but luckily it took me two years to relearn (I was 9, and was f*cking around when my friends and I were playing golf, ran behind a buddy while he was swinging and he caught me on the follow through)
  • 2 0
 Vanderpol single handily skewing the mtb data toward dangerous.
  • 1 0
 I have ridden the Olympic XC course if you get hurt riding that. Then you`re kinda lame,,,I am looking at you Vanderpol
  • 3 4
 This whole report is meaningless. If you saw Vincenzo Nibali's crash in the 2016 Rio Men's Road Race, you know why.
  • 1 2
 Soccer... the worlds biggest game only played by people shit at sports.
  • 2 4
 proof that xc racing is top tier
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