Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The madison, an event with a 120-year history, will make a comeback at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"

We will show you the rules and highlights of cycling in one minute. Whether you are familiar with cycling or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.

One Minute, One Sport | Cycling

"One Minute, One Sport" will show you the rules and highlights of Cycling in one minute


Cycling track is held in a bowl-shaped arena that is 250m round and is one of the oldest Olympic Games disciplines. The history of track dates back over 120 years with its first appearance coming at the Athens 1896 Games. It has been part of the Olympic sport programme since, with the exception of Stockholm 1912. However, women’s cycling track only made its Olympic debut at Seoul 1988.

The participation of professional cyclists has been allowed since the Atlanta 1996 Games. Keirin, which is a race that originated in Japan, was added as an event at the Sydney 2000 Games.

The madison was first included at Beijing 2008 but was dropped for London 2012 as a move towards gender equity in events, since there was no equivalent race for women. However, the madison returns to the men’s Olympic track programme for Tokyo 2020 and will also feature on the women’s schedule for the first time.

Track dominates the cycling programme at an Olympics with 12 out of a total of 22 events.

Event Programme

  • Team Sprint (Men/Women)
  • Sprint (Men/Women)
  • Keirin (Men/Women)
  • Team Pursuit (Men/Women)
  • Omnium (Men/Women)
  • Madison (Men/Women)

Essence of the sport

Every discipline uses a different combination of teamwork, technique, speed and strategy.

Track events can be categorised as either endurance or sprint. The sprint events include the team sprint, sprint and keirin; and endurance includes the team pursuit, the omnium and madison.

In the team sprint, two three-cyclist teams race around the track. After every lap, the lead rider peels away, allowing the next rider to bear the air resistance. The race is a test of a team’s ability, and the race is decided by the finishing time of the team’s last rider.

In sprint, riders race as individuals. Various tactics are employed during the race to avoid taking the lead and bearing air resistance. Sometimes a rider will do a ‘track stand’, coming to a complete standstill in an attempt to take a position in the rear. However, the final lap is an all-out dash for the finish.

In keirin, up to seven riders compete in a six-lap race. A pacer is used, which gradually increases in speed as the cyclists draft behind while manoeuvring for position. The pacer accelerates to 50km/h, and when only three laps remain, it pulls away to allow the riders to sprint in a wild dash for the finish.

The team pursuit is a 4km race between two teams of four riders, who race to overtake the other team or to beat their time. The teamwork the riders display as they change position to beat air resistance is fascinating to watch.

The omnium is a multiple-race event. Four races are held in a day, and riders are awarded points for their finishing position, which are totalled at the end to find their ranking.

The first race is a scratch race, where all the riders start together and race to be the first over the finish line; the second is the tempo race and will make its debut at Tokyo 2020, where the leading rider is awarded points for winning a lap; the third is an elimination race, where the last rider is eliminated after every second lap; and the fourth is a points race, where riders race for 30km (men) or 20km (women) and are awarded points along the way.

In the newly restored madison, teams of two riders take turns to race in a 50km (men) or 30km (women) endurance relay. The resting rider has to touch the racing rider when changing over. Watch for the hand-sling, a move by which the lead rider propels the resting rider into the race, though a push is sometime used instead.

Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
2016 Getty Images

Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

New stars may rise at Tokyo 2020 – keirin holds promise.

European countries have historically been strong in track. Great Britain was especially successful at the Rio 2016 Games, taking home six gold medals, four silver medals, and one bronze medal. Nevertheless, in recent years Australia and New Zealand have gained strength, and it is possible that we will see new faces on the podium in Tokyo.

The Netherlands won 11 medals, of which six were gold, at the 2019 Track Cycling World Championships, while Australia won 10 medals with six being gold.

Asian countries are also gaining strength. The People’s Republic of China won Asia’s first gold in the women’s team sprint at Rio 2016, and Hong Kong (China) may be a candidate for gold in the women’s keirin.

Cyclists tend to have careers spanning many years. One of these cyclists is Bradley Wiggins, who won eight gold medals in Olympic Cycling Track and Road events from Athens 2004 to Rio 2016.

But the Tokyo 2020 Games could see new stars rise.