When Olympic tickets went on sale to Tokyo residents in 2019 I applied for many sports but my first choice was the track cycling so I tried for all seven days over the two ballots and managed to win a single ticket on each occasion. Furthermore, they were on consecutive days which made it a lot simpler to manage. It also proved to be a very lucky masterstroke as whilst all events in and around Tokyo became spectator-less, the cycling in Shizuoka Prefecture (both road and track) continued albeit not at full capacity.
The Rugby World Cup in 2019 taught me that away days are great fun so I was more than happy to travel from Tokyo and make it a bigger occasion than just watching something locally. The fact that my parents-in-law have a house relatively near the Izu Velodrome also made my decision a lot easier as I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about too much travel before or after the sessions.
Chris Boardman’s journey to gold at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics was the moment when I took any note of track cycling, and though I enjoyed it at other Summer Games, it was in London 2012 and Rio 2016 when I absorbed it as best as I could. Watching the likes of Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish, Laura Kenny, Ed Clancy, Katie Archibald, Jason Kenny and co. really was inspirational stuff.
Other than a trip to see some local Keirin action in western Tokyo a couple of years ago I’d never been to see any live cycling action and very excited about it I was too. In fact it was just nice to be watching some live sport again as I have pretty much been starved of it in the Covid_19 era. It was also really good to be there with my friend and colleague James who is such a good mate that we didn’t even know each other had tickets until a few months after the original games had been postponed!
DAY 1 (Monday 2nd August 2021)
The three hour schedule for the opening day at the Velodrome made it look like it was mostly women’s cycling but there was about an hour of men’s team pursuit in the middle of it all not that I cared which particular gender I was watching. First up was the women’s team sprint; a two lap race against the clock involving two riders with the first one setting the pace and allowing the other one to ride in their slipstream before moving over to allow them to race round the final lap. It’s fast and exciting but I prefer to see two countries going head to head.
There was very little time to pause for breath as the different events came thick and fast with the team pursuit qualifying (firstly for women and later for the men) taking up about two thirds of the schedule for the afternoon. Two nations of four cyclists start on opposite sides of the track and work as a team over 16 laps (4km) to get the best time with three of the riders needing to finish. This was a more interesting spectacle and helped by the respective countries of Aurelian (Switzerland), James (Australia) and myself (Great Britain) all being involved at some point. Ultimately though it was Germany who qualified as the top women’s team with Britain second.
In the men’s team pursuit the Danes were in outstanding form and came out on top.
Italy, New Zealand and Britain filled the other top four slots with three times gold medalist Ed Clancy part of the latter pursuit team.
There’s a 15 second countdown prior to the start of each and every race with a machine holding the individual or leader of the group in place until the starting beep goes off. The most hushed and tense moments of quietness were naturally before the one and only medal event of the first day as China beat the much fancied Germans to take gold in the women’s team sprint.
That wasn’t actually the final race action of the day though as the Australian men’s sprint team went again after one of their riders’ handlebars had snapped off on their original run in what was the only crash of the day earlier that afternoon.
DAY 2 (Tuesday 3rd August 2021)
For the second day at the Velodrome I was flying solo and so actually had to ask strangers to take some shots of me not too dissimilar to what had been taken just 24 hours before. The previous post details what it’s like to be a spectator regarding the Coronavirus measures in place to ensure a safer Olympics.
There were actually a few other Union Jack flags on show this day and an air of expectation that Britain would win some medals but would they be gold?
The second day again focused on team pursuit and team sprint races. It’s hard (and probably not that interesting!) to recall all the events of the day but it did feature a lot more of my country than the previous one. The two crashes of the day also happened to both involve Great Britain and they were also quite silly ones with two of the women colliding post race after qualifying for the final. The second one involved Denmark riding into the back of a British struggling back marker as they lapped him.
The Izu Velodrome is supposedly a quick track because of the wood it’s made from (Siberian pine), and the humidity of the Japanese summer means the air is less dense thereby increasing red blood cell production which all supposedly helps athletes perform to a higher standard. Science has never been my strong point so I don`’t really understand it all. I’m sure improvements in technology, nutrition and fitness all helps too and so I saw records broken time and time again. Just five minutes on from the British men’s sprint team breaking the Olympic record on day two and the record was broken again. A few world records were set and it was these moments which really brought the crowd to life.
There were two gold medals up for grabs on this second day at the Velodrome and first up was the women’s team pursuit final and it was Great Britain against sporting adversaries Germany.
And where were the Germans as was once said in a classic commentary line! Well actually they were quite far ahead of the Brits and deservedly took first prize with a new world record thrown in for good measure too. I was disappointed that Laura Kenny couldn’t add to her impressive gold medal collection (she would go on to get another gold three days later in the the first women’s Olympic madison competition) but her husband Jason Kenny had a chance in the next final.
The men’s team sprint final is a three lap race where one member of the team drops out on each of the first two laps leaving it to the third rider to go one on one for the final lap. Britain were up against the Dutch but it was pretty much over on lap one as gaps appeared between the British trio and the World Champions Netherlands romped home. It wasn’t the best of times for me either as my mask string snapped in the middle of the race!!
Fact is that the volunteer workers and media outnumbered fans. It’s always interesting for me to see how what is seen on TV is put together so I often gazed over to the tight 2 m2 media area which the BBC’s interviewer Jill Douglas and a camera operator were in (alongside other countries media) ready to get the post-race reaction from the riders.
The medal ceremonies were there to round off the day’s events and it was the German national anthem which rang out around the arena.
There was then a long time between that and the final medal ceremony and I was just packing up to leave when proceedings finally began. Once I’d clapped the Dutch teams glorious victory following their anthem I raced off to get the shuttle bus back to Ito Station as I had to get back to Tokyo that night ready for work the following day.
This second day was not too dissimilar to the first but something of a reverse with more mens cycling than womens. It would’ve been nice to see some more variety of the different cycling events but I can’t really complain as I know I’m very lucky to have seen not just one but two days of live Olympic action when so many others were left with nothing after fans were barred from Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures.
For a couple who have ten gold medals between them *, it’s very unlikely that too many people will remember watching Britain’s Jason and Laura Kenny win silver medals in the track cycling at Tokyo 2020 but I certainly will. It just wasn’t to be for these two legendary Olympians who sadly couldn’t add to their gold tally on this particular day. Still, it was an unbelievable two days.
* UPDATE: 12 gold medals!! Laura Kenny would go on to get her fifth gold medal in the madison event three days later, and Jason took gold in the men’s keirin on the final day of the games to make him Britains most decorated Olympian with seven golds.
Click here to read ‘What It`s Like To Be A Spectator At The Tokyo 2020 Olympics’
Click here to read ‘A Long & Steep Ride To Check Out The Cycle Racing Track Which Will Be Used At Tokyo 2020’
Click here to read ‘Warming Up For Tokyo 2020 Cycling With A Trip To See Some Local Keirin Action’
Click here to read ‘Reignite Your Passion For The Olympics At This Tokyo Museum’