TOKYO : Japan will send 12 cyclists to take part in the Beijing Olympic Games, with the aim of winning medals in the track cycling events.
The sport of keirin involves nine racers competing at the same time at speeds of 60 to 70 kilometres per hour. It became an official Olympic event at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Keirin was born in Japan in 1948. It has become popular as a betting sport. In 1980, keirin became a world championship sport.
But in the Olympic Games, the rules are slightly different. Instead of nine riders, there are six to seven racing at the same time.
Popular professional keirin racer Tomohiro Nagatsuka explained: “The domestic race is on a 400-metre track which is long, and the angle of the corner, not so steep.
“But overseas, it’s 250 to 200 metres. It’s a 45-degree angle, so you tend to clash for a longer period. The equipment used is different from Japanese keirin. I find it to be a different competition.”
Mr Nagatsuka and his teammates won the silver medal at the last Olympics in Athens.
There are said to be 200 professional keirin racers in Japan today. One of the most successful is Toshiaki Fushimi, who earned US$1.9 million in prize money in 2001. He was also part of the team event at Athens.
He said: “Last time I was in the team event, so this time, I want to compete as an individual. By performing well in keirin, the Japanese-born sport, it will be my expression of thanks to the keirin industry. So I want to compete in keirin.”
Fujio Hayashi, general manager, Japan Cycling Federation, said: “I think winning a medal in keirin will have an impact on the people of Japan.”
And with declining numbers in the pro-cycling population, medal wins could boost interest in the sport. – CNA/ms
Channel News Asia