Rio 2016

Motorsports Should Be in the Olympics. Period.

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I was in the midst of a gold medal-worthy performance in advanced couch potatoing while watching the Olympic cycling road races in Rio, when the course the riders took suddenly became highly technical. As someone whose motorsports obsession predates my earliest memories, I began shouting at the riders through the television. First, it was, "You missed the damn apex!" Then, "for f*ck's sake, track out, you're killing your momentum!" Eventually, my armchair criticisms morphed into exasperated pleas: "There's no runoff here; leave a margin for error!" Well, if you watched, you know what happened: rider after rider went down with concussions and broken bones.

The thing is, they're incredible athletes, all of them. When the speed picked up and the turns tightened, though, most of them proved to be very amateur road racers. I found myself wondering what it would be like if that same section of road were used for motorsports.

I'm not stupid, I know the International Olympic Committee will likely never accept motorsports -- but it absolutely should -- and for all the exact same reasons the IOC picks the other sports for the Olympics.

The FIA is a recognized organization
Courtesy of the FIA

Contrary to popular belief, motorsports aren't banned

When I first started researching why there isn't a single motorsport in the Olympics, I found time and again a reference to a supposed ban on motorized propulsion in the Olympic Charter itself. Here's the thing though... there's no such ban. This is the actual Olympic Charter on which the Olympics are governed. Out of 110 pages, there's not a single reference to motorsports, nor to modes of propulsion.

In fact, the only thing prohibiting motorsports from being featured in the Olympics is the refusal of the IOC to even consider it, and I can't find a single reason why.

Motorsports are, in fact, officially recognized by the Olympics

In order to be an official Olympic sport, that sport must first have its own international federation (IF), which in turn must be recognized by the IOC. Guess what? The IOC formally recognizes the FIA, or the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile... which, as it happens, has been around since 1904, and an IF's longevity is one of the things the IOC takes into account.

Further, the FIA is a member of the Association of IOC-Recognized International Sports Federations -- that's the same association as the IFs for karate, baseball & softball, sport climbing, skateboarding, and surfing, all of which are newly minted, bona fide Olympic Sports debuting (or returning) in 2020.

The IOC formally lists popularity and sponsorship opportunities as criteria

No. Really. This is the list of criteria the IOC uses when evaluating a sport for acceptance. Note the entire section dedicated to the universality and wealth of the sport, and bear in mind that virtually everywhere, from Brazil, to the whole of Europe, to India, Japan, Australia, and of course, the US, motorsports are immensely popular, and in various disciplines (more on those in a minute).

You want sponsorship? Car companies are practically begging to jump into the fray. In case you've missed it, there have been approximately 4,281 car ads since the week began. Team USA bobsleds? BMW. Team UK bobsleds? McLaren. Even the swimming team benefits from automotive involvement, with BMW's motion-tracking sensors helping Phelps, Ledecky, et al. perfect their every stroke. That's all at a huge cost, and all told, the cost of motorsports isn't that out of line with the cost of other Olympic sports, once you take training and specialized equipment into account.

Motorsports actually meet more Olympic criteria than many other sports that are in the Olympics

I'm not even joking here. From simple things like the aforementioned popularity and global appeal, to mundane bureaucratic notions like an exhaustively developed court of appeals, to the real kicker, and one on which the IOC prides itself: motorsports don't have a doping problem, unlike [name your Olympic Sport here].

And it actually was an Olympic Sport... over a century ago

In 1900, motor racing was just an unofficial sport, and was absolutely dominated by the French -- including one Louis Renault, whose eponymous car company you may have heard of. 1900 saw only one non-French winner, when American Gilbert Brown won the fire truck race. Seriously.

In 1908, "water motorsports" -- boat racing -- made an official appearance. More recently, water skiing was admitted as a demonstration sport in 1972, which when you think about it, requires a motor (i.e., the boat).

Elite drivers train as hard and from as early an age as anyone

There's one universal theme when it comes to the background of Olympic athletes: from nearly the time that they took their first steps, they've been training with the singular goal of being the best of the best in their particular sport. Motorsports are no different, and most of the world's best race car drivers are already mastering karts before their first day of kindergarten.

They move from America or South America to Europe or Asia as preteens to further pursue their goals. They don't lead normal lives, and sacrifice is simply part and parcel with success.

They're in every bit as good physical condition as the best athletes in the world

A few years ago, researchers pitted former Formula One World Champion Jenson Button (who was in his mid-30s at the time) against the then-reigning gold and bronze Olympic triathlon winners in a battery of athletic tests. The result? Virtual stalemate, though the Olympic guys are a decade younger. Go ahead. Tell an elite driver he or she isn't an athlete.

Ayrton Senna Concentrating before a race
Courtesy of McLaren

The mental challenge is exactly the same

When a rival swimmer tries to distract Phelps, or when an American swimmer calls out a Russian swimmer for doping, there's immense pressure to perform with absolute perfection. That's the same exact challenge faced by drivers, as they have to rely on muscle memory and near perfect concentration to compete lap after lap within mere fractions of a second.

The skill level involved is legitimately world-class

Watching an archer hit the dead center of a target over and over and over again is truly impressive. I'd go so far as to say it's almost as impressive as a driver hitting his or her marks spot on while battling sideways forces that are several times the force of gravity... at 150 mph.

There are plenty of different disciplines in motorsports, each with its own unique challenges

Road racing you know. Drifting is loosely akin to gymnastics, with precision and finesse counting more than speed. Rally is a race against the clock across narrow dirt backroads. Autocross is a race against the clock over a much smaller, more condensed course lined with cones to avoid, and rallycross is a sort of hybrid of road racing and rally.

These are just examples, of course. There are plenty more types of motorsports that could fill out an Olympic games much like swimming does, and different regions adore each discipline differently. Many countries have one or two good race tracks already, so you can just improve upon what’s there to accommodate the various competitions. A track for autocross and short time trials could be built inside the main Olympic Stadium in less than a day. Use city streets for road racing, and put rallycross out at the horse track, once the horses are done horsing about.

Global RallyCross
Courtesy of Ford

Not to mention that rallycross is kinda a highlight of the modern X Games

The X Games used to be kind of like the Olympics for sports somehow left out of the Olympics... until X Games sports started making their way into the real deal. If snowboarding, BMX cycling, and skateboarding can make it, and if rallycross more than holds its own against those sports in the X Games, it stands to reason that it should get IOC sanctioning as well -- along with the rest of the motorsports world.

There's already an Olympic-like event that sees drivers compete for their countries

If you're not familiar with the Race of Champions, you should be. It's a multi-day meet that pits the world's best drivers from various disciplines within motorsports against each other. They race in several different vehicles, but always compete against each other in identical machinery -- ensuring that it's the driver that makes the difference.

The truly Olympic-like part, though, is that there's a Nations Cup, which sees drivers compete as a team to win the overall championship for their country. In case you're wondering, the USA won the Nations Cup once, in 2002, with NASCAR greats Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Colin Edwards on the roster.

There's still time for the Tokyo Games in 2020

A sport must be approved at least three years before a given Olympic Games. The IOC recently announced five new sports, but there's no reason it can't announce more. Japan is as motorsports crazy as anywhere, and it would be an excellent place to at least trial a couple of events. IOC, I'm talking to you: it's time. Motorsports should be in the Olympic Games.

#MotorsportsTokyo2020


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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. He thinks if you can have sailing and equestrian sports in the Olympics, you should have motorsports.