Olympic leaders approved major changes Thursday in track cycling — including elimination of the sport's signature endurance race — and the addition of mixed doubles in tennis for the 2012 London Games.
The International Olympic Committee executive board agreed to a program of five men's and five women's track cycling events as part of a gender-equity plan proposed by cycling world governing body UCI.
As a result, the Olympics will lose track cycling's iconic event — the 4,000-meter individual pursuit for men and 3,000-meter pursuit for women.
Dozens of current and former cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, have spoken out against dropping the individual pursuit. Among those impacted are reigning 19-year-old world champion Taylor Phinney of the United States and two-time Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins of Britain.
IOC president Jacques Rogge said the committee was following the recommendations of the UCI.
“It is the advice of the UCI that the new format would be more appealing,” Rogge said at a news conference. “Of course, the concerned riders regret that. This is perfectly understandable, but the executive board of UCI considered the new format would be far more appealing.
“There is a general shift as you know from endurance events more to sprint events,” he added. “That is a consideration being made by the experts of cycling, not the IOC.”
Also eliminated in the changes are the men's and women's points races, and men's madison.
The new Olympic program includes men's and women's competition in individual sprint, team sprint, keirin, team pursuit and the five-race omnium event. The omnium combines performances in a 3-kilometer individual pursuit, 200-meter sprint, 1-kilometer time trial, 15-kilometer points race and 5-kilometer scratch race.
Cycling had seven track events for men and three for women at the 2008 Beijing Games. Thursday's changes were designed to make sure male and females compete in an equal number of events in London.
“The changes reflect the IOC's desire to continually refresh the program, as well as its commitment to increase women's participation,” the IOC said in a statement.
But reigning Olympic women's individual pursuit gold medallist Rebecca Romero was not satisfied.
“I'm all in favor of moving to achieve parity between men and women, but there must be a better solution,” she said before the decision was announced. “This is a major culling. There's got to be something better.”
Rogge said the UCI had conducted “extensive” surveys that supported the changes.
“They are adamant that the new program is an improvement for cycling and especially that it will improve the audience and the popularity of the track events,” he said. “You can always argue about one individual event. The individual event might be very popular in some countries where medals are won, but not necessarily in other countries where there are no riders of high quality.”
“You have always to distinguish the big picture from any particular country where some heroes win a lot of medals,” he said. “That does not reflect necessarily on the world view.”
The change will bring the number of women track cyclists in London to 84, up from 35 in Beijing in 2008. Women will make up 45 percent of the total number of Olympic track cyclists, compared to 19 percent in Beijing.
On the final day of a two-day meeting, the IOC board also ratified a proposal by the International Tennis Federation for inclusion of a 16-team mixed doubles competition in London, where the tournament will be played on grass at Wimbledon.
In August, the IOC said it wanted guarantees that top players in singles would be able to participate in mixed doubles. Outside of the Olympics, the top singles players rarely play doubles or mixed doubles.
The IOC said Thursday that mixed doubles “will bring an added value to the Olympic program by providing another opportunity for men and women to compete together on the same field of play.”
Mixed doubles were played at several Olympics from 1900 to 1924. The last gold medalists were Americans Richard Williams and Hazel Wightman in Paris in 1924.
Tennis was dropped from the Olympics after 1924 but returned as a medal event in 1988 without mixed doubles.
Thursday's IOC decision was welcomed by ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti.
“We believe that this addition will make Olympic tennis a truly unique event, with top players having the opportunity to compete for their countries and the honor of an Olympic medal in three distinct disciplines: singles, doubles and mixed doubles,” he said.