Keirin is a cycling track event known to many. Since 2000, Keirin has been an event at every summer Olympic Games and seen Gold Medals go to British riders including Victoria Pendleton, Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny.
This year, the World Cycling Revival Festival will host a Keirin Trophy Competition, and, in true Japanese fashion, patrons will be able to bet on the races thanks to our official Bookmaker, Fitzdares. As well as this, Condor Cycles are building 15 steel-framed Keirin style track bikes based on their schematics from the 1950s. We can’t wait to see these in action at Herne Hill on the 14th, 15th and 16th June!
In its native Japan, however, Keirin is something more than just a type of track event. Each year, young Japanese hopefuls enter the legendary Keirin academy in Shuzenji with the aim of mastering the discipline and competing in the JKA league. For those who succeed in securing a place on the rigorous training programme, Keirin becomes a religion. After completing 12 months of Spartan-like training, there are opportunities to race in front of mammoth audiences and take-home eye-watering prize funds all thanks to the revenue generated by spectators betting on the events.
Below are 9 amazing facts about Keirin racing in Japan, a fascinating sporting heritage and inspiration for the main event at this years World Cycling Revival Festival:
1. Keirin racing was first established in 1948. Funded by the Japanese government, who invested in building 70 outdoor velodromes across Japan, Keirin was launched with the aim of reenergising local economies following the devastation of World War II.
2. For the same reason, Keirin is one of only four sports on which betting is legal in Japan, the others being horse racing, powerboat racing and speedway-style motorcycle racing. Keirin was created to be a betting sport and its rules are built around ensuring betting takes place on the riders’ ability alone. All other factors are heavily regulated.
3. Keirin bets are said to total over ¥1.1 trillion (£6.5 billion) annually in Japan, making it a serious business for riders, promoters and the taxman.
4. From 1949-1964 women were able to participate in Keirin racing. In 2012 women’s Keirin was reintroduced and women began to enter the Keirin academy alongside men.
5. A typical day training at the Keirin academy in Shuzenji begins with a 6.30am start, drills and chores followed by a huge 1300 calorie breakfast. Students are then subject to hill climbs, track sessions, roller training and event classroom lessons.
6. The stringency of Keirin’s academy programme and racing regulations are all closely tied to the betting aspect. Keirin’s governing body, the JKA, are vigilant in preventing corruption in the sport, and riders can be sent back to school or banned from the season’s future races for minor misdemeanours, because of the impact cheating would have on betting odds.
7. Likewise, when athletes attend a Keirin meeting, they sleep in dormitories, eat in canteens and are stripped of almost all contact with the outside world.
8. The rules of the race are all geared towards an exhilarating sprint finish. The riders begin following a pacer motorcycle, called a Derny, for 3 laps as it gradually increases speed. After the third lap the riders are travelling at 50km/h and the Derny pulls away, leaving the riders to fight it out over the last 750m.
9. Equipment is also tightly regulated. All riders are competing on effectively identical bikes which, by today’s standards, look more like classic steel track bikes than the modern carbon-fibre machines seen at the Olympics.
Japanese Keirin really is a world of its own and Francois Pervis, who will be racing the Keirin at the World Cycling Revival Festival, is one of only a small handful of UCI riders ever to have been to Japan race in the sport. We will be asking him to tell us more about this incredible world when we meet in June!