The announcement that Rock Hill will be the site of the 2017 BMX World Championship that will attract 3,000 supercross cyclists from around the globe should come as welcome news – but not necessarily a surprise.
After all, they told us this was going to happen. “They,” in this case, includes local government officials, city planners, developers of Riverwalk, local sports tourism boosters and, perhaps above all, the cycling enthusiasts from throughout the region who said that if the city built a first-class cycling facility, it could attract the world’s best competitors.
Rock Hill has shown foresight like this through much of its history, especially regarding its focus on sports facilities. Cherry Park, controversial when it was built, has become a nationally renowned center for softball tournaments. Manchester Meadows, the city’s soccer complex, which had its scoffers too, was the site of the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships in 2012.
The city also has hosted tennis tournaments at its tennis center and the international disc golf championship at its course near Winthrop Lake.
Those outside of cycling circles might not have known quite what to think about plans to build an Olympic-level center for cycling competitions at the Outdoor Center at Riverwalk, just off Cherry Road near Interstate 77. But those in the know assured developers that the interest was high and the desire intense among regional cyclists of all skill levels.
The center’s Giordiana Velodrome has been up and running for more than a year, and the BMX course is expected to be completed in August. Perhaps the only surprising thing about the announcement of the world championship to be held there is how quickly it came together, before the track is even finished.
The track will be a 1,100-foot dirt course with steeply banked asphalt turns and a variety of jumps for athletes. It has two starting gates, a 5-meter-tall amateur ramp and an 8-meter-tall elite ramp.
A major event – the USA BMX 2014 Gold Cup Finals East – will be held at the new track in October. That will bring more than 800 racers from around the world to the city.
The BMX course also will be open soon to residents and used to teach the sport to children.
The city’s focus on making this a world-caliber cycling center can be seen in its hiring of Mike King, a former pro racer and member of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, to manage the center. King, from Chula Vista, Calif., served as the U.S. Olympic Cycling BMX program director for the 2012 London Games and the 2008 Beijing Games, when BMX was introduced as an Olympic sport.
He was not around for the local announcement about the world championships because he and Rock Hill Parks and recreation officials Thad Fischer and John Taylor were on their way home from Switzerland, where they had been talking with members of BMX’s governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale, which will sponsor the championships.
This one event could have a $13 million economic impact on the city, according to some estimates. Hundreds of cyclists and fans will come to Rock Hill for the 10-day competition, shopping, buying gas and food and staying in local hotels.
Those who had the vision to build this facility told us it would be a winning proposition. We certainly didn’t have to wait long for the payoff.