In the following video, we’ve teamed up with 1992 Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman, who explains the nature of the sprint and how it’s won.
Video: Match Sprint – track cycling event guide presented by Chris Boardman
What is the match sprint?
The match sprint is usually raced between two riders, although it’s possible for up to four to race at once. It’s typically run over three laps of the track, the winner being the first rider across the line.
Because of the demands of the event, it’s usually a slow tactical affair until the final lap, with each rider trying to manoeuvre the other into a disadvantageous position. On the final lap, both riders wind it up and the speed over the last 200m nearly always decides the winner. The event demands explosive power over 10 seconds, which is why sprinters are the biggest and strongest riders in cycling.
Rules of the match sprint
Riders firstly perform a flying 200m qualifying sprint to determine where they’ll be seeded in the competition. They then face each other over a number of knockout rounds, with the fastest qualifiers going up against the slowest. Losers in the early rounds have a chance to regain a spot in the finals by winning a repechage. Unlike the early rounds, the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals are raced as best of three matches rather than sudden death.
The first lap of the race has to be ridden at no slower than walking pace, but after that, riders are allowed to stop for up to 30 seconds (track standing) to try and force their opponent into taking the lead. Once the sprint gets going in the final 200m, if the lead rider is below the red line on the track they are not allowed to move up out of it, otherwise they will be disqualified. Similarly they’re not allowed to go below the track onto the Cote d’Azur.
Crashes are not uncommon in track sprinting because it involves high speeds and close contact
Match sprint in the Olympics
Almost without exception, sprinting has been part of track racing at the Olympics since the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896. It wasn’t until the 1988 Olympics in Seoul that women were allowed to compete, however.
Britain, France, Germany and Australia have dominated the sprint over the years, with Sir Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny, Victoria Pendleton, Reg Harris, Grégory Baugé, Felicia Ballanger, Michael Hübner, Anna Meares and Sid Patterson all winning multiple world and Olympic titles.
The world records for the flying 200m sprint currently stand at 9.572sec for men, set by Kevin Sireau (France) on 30 May 2009 in Moscow, Russia, and 10.782sec for women, set by Anna Meares (Australia) on 5 April 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.