Olympic track cycling events: what is the difference between omnium, Keirin, team pursuit, team sprint, sprint and madison at Tokyo 2020

The track cycling programme at Tokyo 2020 will kick off on Monday 2 August
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With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics a week old, this means action in the Velodrome is just around the corner.

Riders will compete across 12 cycling events inside the 250-metre-long Izu Velodrome from Monday 2 August to Sunday 8 August.

If you aren’t a frequent velodrome spectator, don't worry. We have a complete guide on what all the track cycling events mean, and when you catch the action.

Cyclists compete during a track cycling test event ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the Izu velodrome (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)Cyclists compete during a track cycling test event ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the Izu velodrome (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
Cyclists compete during a track cycling test event ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the Izu velodrome (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Team Sprint

This race is about getting all your teammates around the velodrome as fast as possible. Each rider must lead for one lap of the race. Once they have completed their lap the next rider takes over, with the clock stopping as the final member crosses the finish line.

The rules to this race differ between the male and female categories, with the men racing with three riders, and the women with two.

In the case of a tie (to the closest one-thousandth of a second), the team with the fastest time over the last lap will be declared the winner.


This is the closest cycling gets to a grand prix. Riders in the Keirin start in a bunch behind a motorized pacemaker bike. The pacemaker bike will gradually pick up speed until the it hits 50km/h over three laps.

Once the pacemaker exits the track, the riders have three laps to race, with whoever crosses the finish line first getting gold.

The format originates from Japan, with the word Keirin translating to “racing cycle” in Japanese.


The Sprint is a one vs one race over three laps.

Qualifying for the race consists of a flying start 200m time trial between the riders. The results will determine the seeding of 24 rides, with the fastest times racing the slowest times.

In the finals, the two riders have three laps to jostle for position, with the race often ending in a one lap sprint to the finish line. Positioning is key in the Sprint, so watch out for the riders doing all they can to not let the opponent get a slipstream.

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Team Pursuit

The Team Pursuit sees teams of four riders start on opposite sides of the velodrome in a race against the clock.

Riders follow each other in close formation, each taking turns on the front. When the lead rider had completed their turn they peel off and rejoin the team at the rear.

The teams ride 4,000m, and the gold medalists will be the fastest across the finish line, or if they catch their opponent.


The Omnium is a multi-race event inside the velodrome. At Tokyo 2020, the event will consist of four different mass-start races on the same day. These events are:

– Scratch race: a classic first across the line race over 10km for men and 7.5km for women.

– Tempo race: 10 km for Men and 7.5 km for Women in which after the first 5 laps, 1 point is given to the first rider crossing the line on each lap. Besides, riders can also earn 20 points by lapping the field. The winner is the rider with the most points.

– Elimination race: a bunch race during which the last rider crossing the line at each intermediate sprint (every 2 laps) is eliminated.

– Points race: Men cover 25km and women cover 20km. The final placing is determined according to accumulated points won by riders in intermediate sprints or by laps gained on the main field.

The rider with the most points after all four events is the winner. The winner of the omnium tends not to be a specialist in any of these events, but rather somehow who has excelled at all events.


The final event is the Madison. The Madison is a team event with two riders competing in a relay race.

The race is 50km for the men and 30km for the women with intermediate sprints every ten laps.

While one team member races, the other slows down to take a rest before being thrown back into the action with a hand sling from his/her team mate.

The final results are calculated by the number of points won.

As with the points race, any team that gains a lap on the main bunch is awarded 20 points, while any team that is lapped by the bunch has 20 points deducted. Points awarded in the last sprint after the full distance are doubled (10 points, 6 points, 4 points, 2 points).

Monday August 2

Women’s team sprint (bronze medal race)

Women’s team sprint (gold medal race)

Tuesday August 3

Women’s team pursuit (bronze)

Women’s team pursuit (gold)

Men’s team sprint (bronze)

Men’s team sprint (gold)

Wednesday August 4

Men’s team pursuit (bronze)

Men’s team pursuit (gold)

Thursday August 5

Women’s keirin

Men’s omnium points race (final event of four)

Friday August 6

Women’s madison final

Men’s sprint finals – race 2

Men’s sprint finals – decider

Saturday August 7

Men’s madison final

Sunday August 8

Women’s sprint finals – race 2

Men’s keirin final

Women’s sprint finals – decider

Women’s omnium points race (final event of four)