Cools set to make Canuck history in BMX


BEIJING — Strap yourself in for a wild ride — BMX racing is about to make its Olympic debut.

Samantha Cools of Airdrie, Alta., will make history on Thursday as the first Canadian to compete in the Olympics in BMX (bicycle moto cross), a high-octane event that has its roots in southern California in the late 1960s, with teenagers riding modified, tricked-out bikes.

"It will be in the record books forever, so that is pretty exciting," Cools said when she was named to the team. "I feel my chances are extremely good going into the Olympics and coming out of there with a medal."

The 22-year-old Cools has a legitimate shot at reaching the podium, after finishing fifth in the recent world championships in Taiwan. She’s also the top-ranked racer in North America, and a 13-time Canadian champion.

The International Olympic Committee decided to add BMX to the Games lineup after seeing how television audiences took to snowboard cross at the 2006 Winter Olympics. IOC officials hope the sport will draw younger viewers to the Games.

"If they want to get the younger generation watching the Olympics, it’s a good way of doing that," Cools said.

Cools will be among a field of 16 women that will descend a treacherous twisting course at the Loashan Bicycle Moto Cross venue that begins with an eight-metre drop, and features jumps, banked turns and other obstacles. Two heats of eight riders will compete head to head with speeds hitting close to 60 kilometres per hour.

No surprise, an Australian rider formerly known as Jaime Hildebrandt legally changed his name to Kamikaze.

Kayaker Adam van Koeverden of Oakville, Ont., continues his march toward the medal podium in the semifinals of the K-1 500 metres. The 26-year-old broke his own world record in the opening heat Tuesday.

Rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando opens her competition Thursday with the first rotations of the individual all-round. She’s Canada’s best rhythmic gymnast since Lori Fung, the only non-European Olympic champion since the sport entered the Games in 1984. Fung won the individual all-round that year when most of the Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the Games.

A six-time gold medallist at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, Orlando is the top-ranked rhythmic gymnast in North America. But with all the big guns from Europe in the competition, she’s not considered a medal contender.

Canada’s track and field team has a busy day at the Bird’s Nest stadium. Massimo Bertocchi of Toronto embarks on the gruelling two-day decathlon. Scott Russell of Guelph, Ont., competes in the qualifying round of the men’s javelin, Nicole Forrester of Aurora, Ont., has the women’s high jump preliminary round, and the 4×100 men’s relay team, with the sixth-fastest time in the world this year, races in the heats.

In equestrian, the Canadians will attempt to add to their medal total when they compete in the individual jumping final. Eric Lamaze of Schomberg, Ont., is Canada’s best medal hopeful while veteran Ian Millar of Perth, Ont., and Jill Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ont., are also entered. The Canadians won a silver medal in the team event earlier in the week. It was the first medal for 61-year-old Millar, who’s competing at his ninth Games.

The modern penthathlon, which combines shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrian and cross-country running, gets underway with the men’s competition. The lone Canadian male athlete is Joshua Riker-Fox of Delacour, Alta., who is making his Olympic debut. Hungary and Russia are considered the powerhouses in the sport.

Diving continues at the Water Cube with the women’s 10-metre semifinals and final. Emilie Heymans of Brossard, Que., and Marie-Eve Marleau of Laval, Que., are both entered in the event and were scheduled to compete in preliminaries Wednesday.

In men’s freestyle wrestling, Travis Cross of Port Alberni, B.C., is up in the 84-kilogram class. He’s not favoured for a medal but he’ll have plenty of support in the stands. More than 60 supporters from Port Alberni are here to cheer him on. Montreal’s David Zilberman also takes the mat at 96 kilograms.

In sailing, Oskar Johansson of Burlington, Ont., and Kevin Stittle of Orangeville, Ont., compete in the final Tornado race of the Olympics. The Ontario sailers arrived in Beijing on the heels of a silver medal performance at the 2008 world championships.

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