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Tokyo Olympics: What is the Team Sprint

BERLIN GERMANY FEBRUARY 26 Jeffrey Hoogland Harrie Lavreysen and Roy van den Berg of The Netherlands compete during Mens Team Sprint Final during day 1 of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships Berlin at Velodrom on February 26 2020 in Berlin Germany Photo by Maja HitijGetty Images
The Dutch men's Team Pursuit team on the their way to victory at the Track World Championships in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

One of the fastest and most thrilling cycling events in the Olympics, the Team Sprint is the quickest team time trial you'll ever see. Three of the strongest sprinters in the men's event, and two for the women, take off from a standstill with each rider pulling all-out for one lap before the final rider makes a mad dash for the line. The fastest team is declared the winner.

This adrenaline-filled event has been in the Olympic Games since 2000 and, in its debut in Sydney, the French greats Florian Rousseau, Arnaud Tournant and Laurent Gane dominated the young British squad.

In 2004, it was the Germans, with Jens Fiedler, Stefan Nimke and René Wolff, who claimed gold over the Japanese. Since then, however, the Team Sprint has been the province of the British, with Chris Hoy leading the trio to gold with Jason Kenny in 2008 and 2012, while Kenny took up the mantle in 2016.

Kenny, with Callum Skinner and Philip Hindes, set the Olympic record in Rio, covering the kilometre in 42.562 seconds.

The women's team sprint, which is contested by teams of two, was added in 2012 with the British duo of Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish the favourites until the team were eliminated in the first round on a technicality. Germans Kristina Vogel and Miriam Welte made the final against China's Gong Jinjie and Guo Shuang but the Chinese were also relegated, giving Germany the gold.

China returned in 2016 with a vengeance, winning all three rounds to take gold against Russia, with Gong Jinjie and Zhong Tianshi.

The Olympic team sprint has three rounds: qualifying, first round and the medal finals. In each round, two teams start at the same time on opposite sides of the track. The lead rider is held by the bike's rear wheel in an electronically controlled gate that ensures both teams start at the same time. When the gun goes off, the lead rider is released, and the other riders, held by helpers, are pushed off and settle into the lead rider's slipstream as they power the team up to speed.

The lead rider is a specialist at standing starts and able to smoothly but powerfully bring the team up to speed as fast as possible before pulling off at the end of one lap and letting the next rider take the lead.

The exchange must take place within a 15-metre section of the track. In London 2012, the British and Chinese women's team sprint squads were relegated for missing that window.

For the women's team sprint, the second rider starts her final sprint, accelerating to the finish line of the 500-metre race.

The second rider for the men's team sprint will further accelerate for one more lap, launching the final rider for his all-out sprint of the final lap. The fastest team wins.

The competition takes place across three rounds – qualifying, first round (4th vs 5th, 3rd vs 6th, 2nd vs 7th and 1st vs 8th from qualifying). The two fastest teams from the first round will compete for gold, while the third and fourth-fastest will race for bronze.

The contenders

BERLIN GERMANY FEBRUARY 26 Pauline Sophie Grabosch Emma Hinze and Lea Sophie Friedrich of Germany celebrate after winning Womens Team Sprint during day 1 of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships Berlin at Velodrom on February 26 2020 in Berlin Germany Photo by Maja HitijGetty Images

Pauline Grabosch, Emma Hinze and Lea Friedrich of the German women's Team Sprint squad celebrating victory at the 2020 Track World Championships (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Since Rio, the Dutch men have emerged as the top team sprinters, with Jeffrey Hoogland, Harrie Lavreysen and Roy van den Berg setting a new world record at the world championships in Berlin in 2020 at 41.225 seconds. The young British team, with Jack Carlin and Ryan Owens joining Jason Kenny, were second with a time 0.16 seconds faster than what Britain set in Rio, and will be in contention for the medals in Tokyo.

There are eight teams for the men's team sprint at the Olympics in Tokyo, with Australia, France, Russian Olympic, Germany, New Zealand and Poland going up against the two powerhouse teams.

On the women's side, Germany enter the Olympics as the reigning world champions after beating Australia to the first spot in 2020. Australia, the 2019 world champions, are out of the running as Stephanie Morton left the team one down when she retired so that leaves the Rio gold medallists, China, as one of the biggest challengers. The other teams include Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Russian Olympic and Ukraine.

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news.