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Living with the Gods

Cycling News
June 09, 2007, 1:00 BST,
April 22, 2009, 20:17 BST

It's no wonder Keirin riders in Japan live like Gods, they begin their formidable steps to fame...

June 10, 2007

It's no wonder Keirin riders in Japan live like Gods, they begin their formidable steps to fame living on a mountain peak. Keirin School in Izu-shi, Shizuoka-ken is literally based at the highest point in Shizuoka, well at least between here and Mount Fuji. I know this because we can see the legendary landmark simply by looking straight across the horizon (Beautiful).

Keirin School has 3 superbly conditioned outdoor tracks solely for the purpose of learning (a 400m, a 333m, and a 250m). With a little artistic interpretation if I described these tracks by asking you to imagine 3 cloud rings nesting on the tips of three snow-capped mountains. Then go one step further and replace each of these cloud rings with these 3 different Velodromes looping around the tops of each, you wouldn't be too far from the truth.

Japanese Keirin riders have a bit of a reputation for being a tad lazy, now I know why… If you want to go for a road ride here you must first descend 10km of hairy twists and turns before you can go for a spin. Oh yeah, and how to get home? 10kms while doing your best impression of a mountain goat will get you there. So far I've ridden 100km down hill, 100kms on the flat and a 100km up hill, a strange group of figures for some training rides.

During Keirin School and a little while following it, the local 'professionals' come and stay at our accommodation, or if they live close, drive here each day. During this time we participate in a series of real races. Well, everything is real except for prize money. After every race we go back inside the barracks and the officials play us back the race on video. They show us what will happen in a real race if you do this move, or that move and so on. It's very strict and there are three forms of punishment given out. Every race it is not uncommon for 2 or 3 of these various punishments to be dealt out.

  1. SHIKAKU: You don't want to get one of these… Say goodbye to all your money and any further advancement in the competition.
  2. JUCHU: This is a serious warning and you don't want to be getting one of these either. It is a fine and a percentage loss of your prize money. However, it may be worth the risk to possibly receive one of these in trying to win.
  3. SOCHU: From what I can figure out, this one is given out for breathing, a small fine = $50.

Because gambling is the biggest reason Keirin is so popular in Japan, the punters call the shots. They don't think that just because you're doing 75km/h, in lycra, on a banked track, in a group, and it rains, that you shouldn't race. To make the ludicrous seem a little less so, they have come up with a world only design: the track is sprayed with a very fine sand paper making it pretty normal and safe on the banking in the rain.

That's one problem solved, now what does it feel like to skid across sand paper on your bum at 75km/h? Oh who cares, as long as you can still get a bet on.

Crashing in Japanese Keirin is scarily about 1 in 3. Due to this and the sand paper surface, Keirin riders have taken it upon themselves to wear more protection than the average bear.

Their race suits, unlike our traditional track ones, better resemble that of a downhill mountain biker or motocross rider. Plates for the spine, arms and shoulders, Carbon knuckled gloves and massive helmets are the necessities here.

Ben Kersten

Ben Kersten is one of the world's finest and fastest track cyclists. The Australian is reigning Commonwealth Games gold medallist in the kilo, Australian champion in the sprint, kilo and keirin, and the Australian male track cyclist of the year. This year he is one of the international riders invited to Japan to attend the International Japanese Keirin school. Follow Benny K on his journey as he learns the techniques, rules and traditions that make up Japanese keirin racing in this unique diary from 'the land that time forgot'. You can also check out Benny's own website and he is also a strong supporter of the the Illawarra Institute of Sport, from his home town of Wollongong, just south of Sydney in NSW, Australia.

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