HomeCar CultureCommentaryOlympics don’t need motorsports

Olympics don’t need motorsports


Obviously, the ancient Greeks didn’t include motorsports in their Olympic Games, which started, as far as we know, with a single event — a running race (all contestants were men, and they reportedly ran sans clothing) — in 776 B.C.

Other sports, including boxing and wrestling, were added and the Games continued, despite occasional interruptions, until 391 A.D., when they were banned by Roman emperor Theodosius, who considered them a pagan ritual.

Late in the 19th Century, a French baron, Pierre de Coubertin, led the effort to stage modern Olympic Games. They resumed in 1896 in Greece, where competitions were held in track and field, weightlifting (including the one-hand lift), Greco-Roman wrestling, swimming, cycling, lawn tennis, target shooting, fencing and gymnastics.

Again, all the competitors were men, though clothed. Women would not be included until Paris hosted the Games four years later, and then only to play golf and tennis.

The so-called modern Olympics were created as a way to inspire youth around the world (and especially in de Coubertin’s France and especially the aristocratic class) to pursue physical fitness and to come together for peaceful competition. And it wasn’t just athletics; the Olympics were to be festivals, and some included competitions in art and music as well as running and jumping.

Figure skating (as early as 1908) and ice hockey (1920) were contested, but it wasn’t until 1924 at Chamonix, France, that the Winter Games were staged as a separate event, at first with speed skating, figure skating, skiing, bobsledding and ice hockey.

For most of their existence, the modern Olympics were open only to amateur athletes and to competitions based on human-, horse-, wind- or gravity-power, and that’s horsepower as in equestrian sports, not as in auto or motorcycle racing.

There was, however, one exception I can find: In 1908 at London, there were three motorboating events.

Having covered three Olympic Games as a daily newspaper sportswriter — two Summer Games and one Winter Games — I think I have a pretty good understanding about the what and why of the competitions. For an even longer period of my professional life, I also have covered motorsports — from Indy to Le Mans, from Watkins Glen to Australia’s Thunderdome. Again, I think I have a pretty good understanding of the what and why of the competitions.

I also think there’s no place for motorsports in the Olympics. Motorboat races more than a century ago in London should remain an anachronism.

Olympics don’t need motorsports | ClassicCars.com Journal
Bobsledders test their BMW-designed vehicle | BMW of North America photo

And it’s not that auto racers are not athletes. While their careers may last longer than those participating in some other sports, the all-they-do-is-sit-there-and-steer argument is a thing of the past. Driving at speed, let alone in competition, demands extreme mental and physical focus and stamina.

By the way, there already is a motorsports connection to the Olympics. The American team’s two-person bobsleds and skeletons being used in South Korea were created with design and engineering by BMW of North America and the automaker’s West Coast design studio. (It was stock car racer Geoff Bodine who first brought American motorsports expertise into bobsled design.)

Another point: Rather than Formula One or stock car racers, were the International Olympic Committee to agree to any form of motorized sport, it most likely would be something designed to appeal to a new and youthful audience, much as snowboarding and freestyle skiing were added to the Winter Games and BMX and mountain biking to the Summer Games.

What sort of motorsport might that be? Maybe something along the lines of electric-powered drift cars or battery-propelled stadium-style motocross.

The Olympic Games do not need motorsports, nor does motorsport need the Olympics.Olympics, Olympics don’t need motorsports, ClassicCars.com Journal



Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. If there can be snowboard-cross at the Winter Olympics, they can add motocross to the summer games. In fact, many of the snowboard competitions can be translated into motorcycle-related events. I would watch that!

    BTW: What each sport "needs" is irrelevant. What would make the best entertainment is more relevant!


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