Get Involved: CYCLING - BMX
Fast, dangerous, thrilling and the newest and coolest sport on the Olympic programme, BMX was a huge hit on its debut in the Beijing Games four years ago.
Jamie Staff, BBC Sport
"BMX is a very exciting and fast-paced sport that is made for television. It is great that London 2012 gives the generation who discovered the sport as kids the chance to now show it to their children. Team GB are in with a good chance of medals. Shanaze Reade is the great British hope in the women's. At her core she is an outstanding individual and has lots of talent; she could win hands down. Liam Phillips's broken collarbone won't be too difficult to get over physically and he could make the final. He will be competing against the USA's Connor Fields, who is without question the stand-out male rider."
Over a series of qualifying heats, riders have to navigate a course full of humps, bumps and jumps while trying to outmanoeuvre - and avoid crashing into - their opponents.
The drama is heightened by a winner-takes-all one-run final.
BMX has come along way from the skate parks and dirt roads it was first popularised on in Britain in the 1980s, and Crewe-born Shanaze Reade is a genuine contender to become a home-grown gold medal winner.
Anyone looking to replicate the competitor's adrenaline-fuelled moves will get their chance after the Games closes as the 400m BMX Track is to be opened to the public as part of the Velopark in the Olympic Park.
Why is it good for you?
The effort of riding a BMX bike at speed for an hour can burn approximately 610 calories. This not only helps aid weight loss but increases endurance, promotes agility, develops physical coordination and builds muscle strength.
Pedalling a BMX bike strengthens and tones various leg muscles, while lifting the handlebars to perform tricks can increase muscle mass in the biceps and triceps.
Whether practising to compete in races or perform tricks, BMX boosts self-discipline, motivation, self-esteem and confidence.
Training sessions are an excellent way to develop communication skills and learn to work effectively with other people. Clubs also offer a variety of social events beyond simply taking part in the sport.
There are currently more than 50 dedicated BMX tracks throughout the UK. Find your local club by using British Cycling's club finder.
It is essential to wear safety equipment such as a full-face helmet, cycling gloves and elbow and knee pads. It is recommended that trousers and a long sleeved top be worn for added protection.
Can you compete?
Get your performance under pressure analysed in just 20 minutes by four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson
For people looking to try out the sport, you can hire BMX bikes, gloves and helmets from tracks throughout the country. Good quality starter bikes can also be purchased at around £200-300.
Club membership often entitles people to receive coaching and equipment hire at reduced rates, plus entry to in-house races.
Training days and taster schemes are run for people of all ages and abilities throughout the year. Visit the British Cycling, Cycling Ireland, Scottish Cycling and Welsh Cycling websites for more information.
Small race fees are also often required to take part in meets.
For parents looking to get their children started in competitive racing, British Cycling are running a number of events for under-16s throughout the United Kingdom this year. Visit the 'Go-Ride Racing' website for more details.
Sky Ride are offering free cycling events across the country throughout the summer. Their website also contains information about where you can find your nearest cycling route.
Fun, free and informal bike rides just for women are also available through Sky Ride's Breeze scheme.
Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?
'Join In Local Sport' aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.
More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.
As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.
Find an event near you.
The competition format at London 2012
- From Wednesday 8 August to Friday 10 August, 48 athletes (32 men, 16 women) will compete at the Olympic Park's BMX Track.
- Both the men's and women's competitions begin with a time trial to seed competitors for the elimination phase, in which each competitor has one run over the course. The rider with the quickest time earns the top seeding for the elimination phase, and so on.
- For men, the elimination phase starts at the quarter-finals stage. For women, it begins with the semi-finals.
- Four groups of a maximum of eight riders compete in each quarter-final, which are held over five runs.
- The semi-finals in both the men's and women's events follow a three-run format.
- Both finals are decided over one run, with the rider who crosses the the finishing line first winning the gold medal and so on.
The rules at London 2012
In changes from the rules in place at the Beijing Olympics, the time trial phase used to determine the seedings for the elimination stages now sees each rider have one run instead of two. The men's quarter-finals comprise five runs instead of three.
Great Olympic moment
Maris Strombergs of Latvia rode to the first ever Olympic gold in the men's BMX cycling event. Strombergs led throughout, beating Americans Mike Day and Donny Robinson into silver and bronze. Day dominated the quarter-final and semi-final rounds, but he could not keep pace with Strombergs in a crash-filled, incident-packed final. The Latvian rider's win gave his country its first gold of the Games.
In each run, the athlete who finishes first gets one point, second placed gets two points, and so on.
After three runs in the quarter-final stage, the top two riders (those with the lowest number of points) qualify for the semi-finals. The remaining riders in each quarter-final continue for two more runs, after which the top two riders (calculated from all five runs) will qualify for the semi-finals.
The semi-finals for both men and women are held over three runs, in which the top four riders from each semi-final will advance to the final.
If a photo finish cannot break a tie within a run, the riders share the same place and points. This includes the finals, where medals will be shared.
If two or more riders within the same heat have the same number of points after their three or five runs, ties are broken in descending order of importance by: Points in run five (if applicable), points in run four (if applicable), points in run three, points in run two, points in run one, and by gate selection order of run one.
In the elimination phase, riders have the opportunity to choose which gate they start from. For the first run in the elimination phase, the gate selection order is determined by the rank from the seeding run.
The gate selection order for subsequent runs is determined by the points scored in the previous run (ties are broken by rank in the seeding run). The gate selection order for the final is determined by the fastest time from the last run in the semi-finals (ties are broken by rank in the seeding run).
Ones to watch
Shanaze Reade suffered heartbreak in Beijing, where she was the favourite for gold, but won the World Cup event on the London course last summer.
Liam Phillips is back in BMX after flirting with track cycling but is recovering from a broken collarbone.
Defending champion Maris Strombergs is known as "The Machine" and the Latvian will be among the favourites.
BMX racing can trace its origins back to the early 1970s when children, taking inspiration from the motorcross superstars of the time, started competing on dirt tracks on their pedal bikes in southern California.
Did you know?
The Oscar-nominated 1971 documentary 'On Any Sunday', featuring Steve McQueen, which opens with kids imitating motorcyclists by riding their bikes on a dirt track, is widely credited with popularising the nascent BMX across the USA
It steadily grew in popularity and by the mid-point of that decade people were racing standard road bikes off-road, around purpose-built tracks throughout the state.
Manufacturers soon latched on to its growing status, and specifically modified BMX bikes began to be mass produced.
George Esser set up BMX's first sanctioning organisation, the National Bicycle League, in 1974. Three years later, the American Bicycle Association was formed to help with governance, with the International BMX Federation following in 1981.
BMX World Championships have been held since 1982 and the sport has featured prominently at the extreme sports event, the 'X Games.'
BMX cycling became the most recent discipline to have been added to the Olympic programme when it was introduced at Beijing four years ago.