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Back to school

June 8, 2007

I write this now sitting in my little room, my very simple, very old, very little room. Tomorrow is the last day of school for the Kokusai Keirin Gakko (International Keirin School). Upon arrival in Japan it is a non-stop circus of education, training, legalities, media and formalities. It has been 12 odd days now since I arrived and everyday has been jammed full of the aforementioned activities.

(Writing interrupted by Stephan Nimke – German Olympic and World Champion, he says “My legs have pain ja!” I then proceeded to play him my favourite German tune off my laptop.)

As mentioned in 'the land that time forgot', Keirin School for a Japanese rider trying to become a professional Keirin racer is one year. Part of the deal for letting us International riders crash their party is that we do an accelerated course on Keirin School. There is big money spent gambling on Keirin so we need to be well educated on all the processes. If we break a rule during a race which causes a punter to lose some big money, there will probably be a riot similar to that in European soccer.

The last two days we have had our exams from the previous ten days of learning. We started with laboratory testing: A standing height jump test, a hand grip test and a fat test were the simple requests of the morning before they asked for some tests that were a little bit more invasive.

To be carried out on a stationary bike with more wires and sensors than Apollo 13, we had a 30 second maximum power test, followed by a 30 second gradual test ending at maximum, and finished off with a 10min VO2 Max endurance test. This is all very unpleasant to say the least, and serves no purpose other than data collection for the School. Pride is always a factor, so there is always impressive data to collect.

Day 2 of tests was kicked off with the 'bicycle maintenance and safety test'. We had to completely disassemble a bicycle under careful observation from an instructor. It must be done piece by piece and in perfect order taught to us a few days prior. No sound must be made by the tools touching the bicycle and no part nor tool can be dropped. When finished you yell "owarimasu!" which means finished, you then proceed to do it all backwards…

Hopefully one finishes with a completed bicycle just the way you were given it. Oh yeah, did I mention within the 20 minute time limit? In practice I was pushing it and rolled in in under 10mins. I wanted to be safe in the test and do it perfectly (Virgo), which I did, in around 14 minutes, though. Also, they test all the bolts afterwards with a torque wrench to make sure it was all done properly - I guess so no one dies the next time they go to ride their bike.

We next moved to a written examination. This is comprised of about 50 totally obvious and un-failable questions. We didn't need 10 days of lectures to answer: Is Keirin a Gamble sport? Y or N. The fact that there is a test at the end of the course is the most productive learning instrument in the process. You always pay attention thinking 'do I need to know this?'

Wrapping up the testing and where it's really at is: Practical cycling. A 200m flying time trial and a 1km standing time trial. I should add that these are all done on standard steel bikes, standard steel sprint bars, standard training wheels, on an outdoor 400m track and with the infamous Keirin (fighter pilot) helmet.

The time limits are very generous (too generous) for each event, 12 seconds for 200m and 1min20 for 1km. Because of this each rider has his own agenda for the event, for example I used a really big gear and trained for strength which is and has been very common. If the weather is good some guys will have a good crack. The weather was pretty shocking this time around so 10.8seconds for 200m and 1m07seconds for 1km were the best we could muster.

As I said it is the last day of school tomorrow so I guess I passed the tests….

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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.