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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Games Expand to Rocky Road

ATLANTA -- Deep in those famous Georgia woods is lurking either the future of the Games or the biggest error of judgment the Olympic movement has made in years.


For those who enjoy the outdoors and the sensation of sweaty lycra on the skin, the introduction of mountain biking to the Games is so exciting that 35,000 tickets were sold out within days.


Even beach volleyball, a medal event for the first time, is unlikely to create a greater stir than its co-debutante, judging by the 10-kilometer course that snakes between the trees on the fringes of the Georgia International Horse Park.


A newcomer expecting a gentle parkland ride over a couple of grassy knolls is forgetting the first part of the sport's name. Speaking from painful experience this week, they should simply hand out a medal to anyone who finishes.


"I reckon it's the toughest course there's ever been," said competition manager Brian Stickel proudly. "They say it's not a good day if there isn't any blood or mud on your teeth at the end."


Racing down the solid granite trails, boulder-strewn tracks and narrow wooded paths of the Olympic course compares comfort-wise with skiing down a snow-free piste or spending a day bareback camel riding in Algeria.


Broken arms and collar-bones are regarded as an occupational hazard at this level and even the official Games literature refers to one part of the course as "a steep technical drop that may cause some over-the-bar action."


Over-the-bar action generally takes a different form in most Olympic cities, but Stickel insists it is all part and parcel of a genuine sport that deserves a break.


"We heard there were a few people who were upset that we were admitted but our attitude is that we've paid our dues. Look at the number of people who've gone out and bought mountain bikes in the last 10 years."


Six laps of the circuit are expected to take the best riders just under three hours in the hottest part of the day, enough to make unfit novices slink away down the appropriately-named Purple Heart Highway, which leads back to Atlanta.


The experience is disconcerting, like the advice on the wall. "For many riders, mountain biking has always been about pushing the limits of their equipment and their own fear."


The hall, nevertheless, has been packed all week and mountain biking is here to stay whatever the diehards think. Real or not, the future looks bright chrome.