The keirin is a track cycling event in which 6-9 cyclists compete. The first part of the race consists of the riders following a pacer, who starts at a deliberately slow speed before gradually increasing in pace. With about 600-700 metres of the 2 km distance left to race, the pacer steps aside and the cyclists race to the finishing line, reaching speeds of up to 70 km/h. It first appeared as an Olympic track cycling event in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and is now one of the highlights of any track cycling championships.
The history of keirin
|A keirin race in Japan|
The sport of keirin originated in Japan, with the first race being held in 1948. It’s an immensely popular sport in Japan, with the three day Keirin Grand Prix held each December, and 20 million people attending events throughout the year. Aspiring professional riders in Japan compete for entry into the Japan Keirin School. 10% of applicants are successful and have to undergo a 15-hour-a-day training regime as part of their graduation. Those who pass the exams become professional riders, with keirin having the largest number of professional athletes of any sport in Japan, with other 3000 registered professionals.
It’s difficult to mention keirin in Japan without also mentioning the accompanying betting, which goes hand-in-hand with the sport. Over US$15 billion is wagered on keirin events each year, with all riders having to pass strict licensing requirements before they race. All equipment used in races also has to meet certain requirements, to ensure that no rider is advantaged or disadvantaged because of their equipment.
There are several different ways of approaching the keirin, but perhaps the most successful strategy is that of the “senko”, or “lead out” rider. The senko rider typically aims to hit the front early on, and tries to use their immense power to hold on to the end. This strategy also holds the advantage of avoiding the carnage in the pack, with crashes in keirin races regular occurrences.
Another common strategy is the “sashi”, or “the stab”. The sashi rider tries to stay just behind the front runner for the majority of the race, before overtaking them on the final straight. It’s a much more dangerous strategy than the senko, with the rider risking getting caught up in a pack, or getting involved in a tangle with other bicycles.
Finally, a third strategy is the “makuri”, or “the come around”. As the name suggests, this strategy involves launching a powerful sprint from behind by using power and speed. To be a successful makuri rider you need to have great balance, as you often receive contact from riders on the inside.
This year’s Olympics
|Sir Chris Hoy celebrates another gold medal|
Two of track cycling’s superstars won the keirin events at the recent world championships in Melbourne, with Anna Meares claiming the women’s title and Sir Chris Hoy claiming the men’s title. Both will likely be representing their country at this year’s Olympics, with Sir Chris Hoy aiming to retain the title he won in 2008, and Meares looking to claim the inaugural women’s title. Meares will be facing stiff competition in the keirin from her long-term rival Victoria Pendleton, with the pair due to battle in several track cycling events this year.
The keirin will be one of the highlights of this year’s London Olympics, with the event sure to captivate and enthrall the capacity crowd at the velodrome, as well as the millions of people watching on tv. Make sure you tune in to catch the action!